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BOTZWANA 2012

updated 2019

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ク ウ  ェ  ー  ト  オ  イ  ル  パ  ン  ク

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You · are · reading · the · uncensored · version · [[unless· it's · been · hacked]].

[[Also · called: · "A · Flaneur · in · Salmiya"]]

Music: · You · are · listing · to · Jean · Baudrillard · singing · his · poem · "Motel · Suicide" · accompanied · by · the · punk · group · The · Chance · Band. · If · not · click · there:

 

Some · call · it · Petrolpunk · or · Petropunk · , · but · I · call · it · Oilpunk. · No · matter ·

 how · you · call · it · , · Oilpunk · is · an · idealized · version · of · an · oil · based · 

society · making · use · of · brassy · visceral · machines · covered · with · oily · 

grime. · Bearded · individuals · drive · through · the · digestive · apparatus · of · 

the · Oilpunk · universe. Their · white · clothes · never · get · dirty · and

· their · superpowered · futuristic · vehicles · never · touch · the · ground. · This · 

place · does · indeed · exist. · Welcome · to · Kuwait.

In · the · 1980s· · · science · fiction · sub-

branch · called · Cyberpunk · developed · · cynical · form · of · dystopianism · by · depicting · the · fusion · of · high · technology · and · low · life · in · post-industrial · urban · contexts. · What · started · with · William · Gibson's · Neuromancer · and · novels · by · Bruce · Sterling · and · Bruce · Bethke · , · became · not · only · · literary · genre · but · also · an · aesthetic · code · popularized · by · movies · such · as · Blade · Runner · and · The · Matrix. · The · latter · came · along · in · greenish · dark · tones · of · dampened · neon · light · and · · material · universe · made · of · retro-futuristic · items · such · as · industrial · ruins · , · disk · telephones · · and · worn · leather · office · chairs. ¶

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I · do · not · find · Blade · Runner’s · slummy · urban ·landscapes · in · Tokyo's · glistening ·

Times · Square · or · in · Berlin's · Sony · Center · [[two · places · that · are · normally · quoted · as · typical · cyberpunk · addresses]] · , · but · in · the · district · of · Kuwait · called · Salmiya · where · I · am · currently · living. · Though · rainy · nights · and · humid · sidewalks · are · absent · [[simply · because · there · is · neither · rain · nor · sidewalks]] · , · there · are · many · reasons · why · Kuwait · should · be · seen · as · the · noir · version · of · the · Middle · East. ¶

Nothing · could · be · more · opposed · to · the

· sterile · New · World · atmosphere · of · Dubai· , · which · is· a · "Disneyland · with · the · death · penalty." · [1] · However · , · nothing · could · be · more · opposed · to · the · disastrous · images · that · reach · us · from · many · other · places · in · the · Middle · East · either. · In · Salmiya · , · peoples' · existence · transcends · both · the · preppily · optimistic · and · the · grittily · pessimistic · because · protagonists · are · too · thrilled · by · their · petro-dollar · enhanced · boredom. · The · constellation · covers · more · or · less · accurately · the · definition · of · cyberpunk. · Salmiya · is · not · a · postmodern · shopping · center · but · the · Arab · version · of · Gibson's · imagined · Tokyo-Chiba · where · gangs · of · nonchalant · youths · on · drugs · plough · the · area · with · their · motorcycles. · Just · like · Gibson's · Chiba · , · which · is · an · international · synthetic · city · built · outside · Tokyo · in · a · dystopian · Japan · , · Salmiya · , · located · fifteen · kilometers · from · Kuwait's · city · center · , · has · been · created · for · expats · after · the · damaged · country's · liberation · from · invading · Iraq. ¶

The · word · 'punk' · suggests · the ·

articulation · of · an · anarchic · behavior · of · post-industrial · youths. · In · cyberpunk · it · does · not · result · in · politically · motivated · counter-cultural · actions · , · but · rather · in · a · consumer-oriented · teenage · anomie · propelled · by · high-tech · development · , · a · phenomenon · that · was · first · observed · in · Japan. · Cyberpunk · can · be · defined · as · a-political · nihilism. · The · shaded · young · males · crisscrossing · my · neighborhood · in · the · early · morning · hours · are · definitely · technically · well-equipped · as · they · speed · their · Ferraris · and · Aston · Martins · and · pile · up · their · iPhones · on · restaurant · tables · [[Kuwait · has · the · highest · rate · of · smartphone · use · in · the · world]]. · Like · Gibson's · characters · , · they · are · fascinated · with · style · and · surfaces. · Profundity · is · suspect · in · this · postmodern · universe: · cyberpunk · is · pure · attitude. ¶

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Salmiya has become a lieu littéraire through Craig Loomis' book The Salmiya Collection.

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Knowledge · is · equally · suspect. · Like ·

true · punks · , · those · Ferrari · hipsters · don't · need · to · know · how · to · play · the · instruments · they · perform · with · ; · they · simply · go · – · just · for · the · thrill · of · it. · And · indeed · , · Salmiya · provides · plenty · of · thrills: · gay · people · in · SUVs · hunting · down · young · boys · by · the · dozen · ; · Philippine · prostitutes · in · burkas · ; · pink · lighted · brothels · in · unassuming · apartment · blocks · where · you · are · led · by · following · a · white · rabbit · ; · XXX · XXXX · ; · Marathon · rave · parties · in · so-called · "party · apartments" · out · of · which · herds · of · niquabed · women · stream · in · the · late · morning · hours. · Or· , · if · nothing · helps· , · there · is · still · the · the · XxXxxXXXx · down · by · Tannhäuser · Gate. ¶

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In · Blade · Runner · , · Harrison · Ford · overhears · the

· new · Asian-European · street · patois · while · slurping · his · noodles · at · a · grimy · noodle · stand. · He · understands · that · this · is · the · language · of · the · future. · In · Kuwait · the · affluent · youth · speaks · a · mixture · of · basic · Americanized · English · and · a · local · Gulf · dialect · that · remains · rather · incomprehensible · for · people · from · most · other · Arab · countries. · Matrix-style · leather · coats · have · been · exchanged · against · the · impeccably · white · dishdasha · , · the · traditional · ankle-length · robe · worn · by · males · all · over · the · Gulf. · The · Orient · of · yesterday · incorporates · the · Orient · of · today, · or · the · Third · World · is · recreated · inside · the · First · World · and · vice · versa. ¶

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Instead · of · hacking · into · global · computer · networks · , · those · cyberpunks · are ·

smoking · the · shisha · [[water · pipe]]. · What · they · share · with · cyberpunks · is · the · love · of · speed · as · well · as · the · conviction · that · quasi · everything · in · this · world · can · be · easily · and · quickly · accessed · without · much · effort. · Kuwaitis · will · not · get · wired · to · a · computer · , · like · Neo · in · The · Matrix · , · to · be · programmed · , · in · an · act · of · "extreme · learning" · , · into · a · Kung · Fu · master · in · a · matter · of · seconds. · Their · patented · approach · is · wasta · , · the · famous · "who · you · know" · favoritism, · which · , · just · like · "extreme · learning" · , · can · turn · you · into · almost · everything · within · seconds. ¶

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Here

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In· one · of · those · towers · might

· sit· a· hacker· discovering · right · now · that · all · this · is· only · an · illusion. · He · will · try · to · free · us · of · our · mental · prison· , · but · the · doors · are · firmly · locked · by · oil · money. · In · reality ·,· he · is · not · telling · us · anything · that · we · didn't · know · already. · We · simply· don't · want · to · quit · our matrix · [[think · of · The · Matrix's · Cypher]]. ¶

Blade · Runner’s · city · could· be

· anywhere · from · New · York · to · London’s · Canary · Wharf. · Salmiya · has · a · similar · feel · of · indistinct · urbanism. · And · because · it · can · be · anything · or · nothing · , · it · has · little · basis · in · reality. ¶

A· few · other · things · make · Salmiya· typically cyberpunk:

· the · existence · of · towering · ,· god-like · mega-corporations · [[zaibatsu · in · Gibson's · terms]]· by · which· humans · are · turned · into · dwarfs · in · most · cyberpunk · novels · and · of · which · the · oil-driven · Kuwaiti · economy · is · a · cliché. · Third · , · a · punky · "No · Future" · slogan · lingers · over· the · entire · country · because · one · day · the · oil · will · run · out · , · and · the · exuberant · lifestyle · and · hyperdoped · economy · cannot · be · sustained. · Fourth · ,· there · is · the · already · mentioned · high · tech · aspect: · what · could · be · more· technologically · advanced · than · a · country · that · has · to · produce · its · own · water · in · factories? ¶

​·

Courtesy: Alia Farid

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In · this · world · , · technology · thrives · without · having · to · face · any · "real · world" ·

ecological · pessimism · that could · , · once · in · a · while · , · point · out · the · dangers · of · misdirected · technology. · Cyberpunks · are · neither · optimistic · nor · pessimistic · but · neutral. · Garbage · is · brought · into · the · desert · , · which · means · that · it · is · swept · under · the · Baudrillardian · mega-map · , · which · is · supposed · to · cover · , · just · like · a · carpet · , · the · entirety · of · the · real · world. · 7· million · tires · are · buried · in · Sulabiya · ,· creating · the · world's · largest · tire· graveyard · ,· which · can · even · be · seen · from · space. · In · the · early · 2010s · , · raw · sewage · had · been · funneled · off · into · the · sea · right · in · the · middle · of · the · city · for · years · because · the · maintenance · and · repair · of · the · water · purifying · plant · could · not · be · guaranteed. · In · theory · , · Kuwait's · urban · waste · management · could · raise · numerous · questions · about · the · government’s · ability · to · ensure · the · proper · disposal · of · thousands · of · tons · of · garbage · to · avoid · risks · taken · on · public · safety. · The · World · Health · Organization · has · declared · Kuwait · the · tenth · most · polluted · country · in · the · world. · But · who · would · raise · such · questions · when · the · garbage · has · been · safely · deposited · underneath · the · map · on · which · we · are · living · , · that · is · , · when · it · has · simply · been · brought · out · into · the · "desert · of · the · real"? · It · is · exactly · here · , · at · Bnaider · in · the · desert ·,· on · the · spooky · premises · of · the · former · American · military · base · that· the · Iraqi · army · transformed · into · a · neo-Gothic · ruin ,· that · we · find · a · monument · of · Baudrillard. · A · lucid · cyberpunk · wrote · on · a · bunker: · "Baudrillard · was · here." ¶

 

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 The world's largest tire graveyard in Sulaibiya 

This · is · the · fifth · point: · Kuwait · is · cyberpunk · because · of · the · dystopian ·

environment · in · which · it · is · embedded. · The · sixth · and · probably · most · important · point · establishing · Kuwait · as · a · Middle · Eastern · cyberpunk · enclave · is · its · particular · philosophy · of · urbanization. · In · 1970 · there · were · still · 113,400 · shanty · houses · in · Kuwait · and · Salmiya · was · a · fishing · village · with · "stick · architecture" · made · of · Mangrove · wood · imported · from · Zanzibar. · Development · has · been · fast · and · developed · a · particularity. · The · real · estate · market · is · highly · speculative · and · buildings · are · not · renovated · but · left · to · decay · until · they · are · ready · for · demolition · and · new · buildings · can · be · erected · in · their · place. · It · takes · thirty · to · forty · years · for · a · building · to · be · so · run · down · that · brokers · decide · to · have · it · replaced. ¶

In · the · meantime · , · Asian · workers · , · this · third ·

world · underclass · representing · the · main · workforce · in · the · Gulf · , · populate · those · ruins · , · swing · improvised · electricity · cables · from · house · to · house · , · insert · makeshift · cardboard · windows · and · fix · shaggy · balcony · railings. · In · other · parts · of · the · Third · World · ,· rural · immigrants · move · into · derelict · old· towns. · In · Kuwait · the · old · town · was · demolished · in · the · 1950s , · and · poor · immigrants · move · into · abandoned · houses · from · the · 1980s. · They · also · take · over · former · luxury · malls. · [2] ¶

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As · a · result · , · urban · subdivisions · become · less · distinct. · The · old · exists · next ·

to · the · new. · Like · in · Blade · Runner's · Los · Angeles · , · immigrants · represent · seventy · percent · of · the · population. · In · the · homes · of · these · immigrants · we · might · find · a · dust-covered · disk · telephone · or · a · Matrix-style · chafed · leather · office · chair. · Or · maybe · even · a · typed · carbon · sheet? · Right · next · to · those · slums · are · the · generic · gilded · luxury · apartment · blocks · complete · with · a · pink · pimp · sofa · in · the · lobby · and · a · mat-black · McLaren · blocking · the · entrance. · The · fusion · of · the · fragrance · of · Boss · aftershave · with · the · stench · of · overflowing · garbage · bins · is · unique · to · Salmiya. · No · isolated · barrios · or · favelas · like · in · South · America · but · perfect · cohabitation. · Social · borders · are · floating · like · a · scent. ¶

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Very · early · Kuwait · opted · against · the · concept of · gated · communities · , · those · naked ·

 · embodiments · of · colonial · continuity. · Salmiya · is · the · perfect · embodiment · of · postmodern · spacing · determined · by · the · fusion · of · levels · , · discontinuous · signifiers · , · and · the · explosion · of · boundaries. · While · abstract · Dubai · is · eagerly · investing · in · a · distant · future · by · building · a · functional · Disneyland · , · and · while · a · great · deal · of · the · third · world · still · emanates · concrete · elements · of · its · colonial · past · , · Salmiya · decided · upon · the · urban · model · of · cyberpunk · which · is · virtual. · Salmiya's · prototype · is · that · of · the · benign · but · anarchic · society · in · which · the · real · has · been · brought · "out · there" · , · safely · buried · in · the · desert. ¶

The · other · day · I · saw · the · head · of · a · live · cheetah · hanging · out · of · a ·

Maserati's · window. · Was · that · actually · a · real · one · or · an · android? 

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Iran

Iraq

Saudi Arabia

Kuwait

In · 1983, · French · sociologist ·

Gilles· Lipovetsky · wrote · that · "casual · apathy · is · a · rampart · against · the bursts · of · religiosity." · [3] · His · theory · cannot · be · applied · to · Salmiya. ¶

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 "Oilpunk is Steampunk... 

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...that doesn't wash off"

Chiba · City · blues · - · Salmiya · blues. · The · early · prayer · calls · , · simultaneously

· issued · from · all · powerful · speakers · attached · to · the · numerous · minarets · of · Salmiya · , · shroud · the · lawless · cityscape · into · an · air · of · illusion. · While · Kuwait · has · embraced · the · postmodern · discourse · of · radical · ambiguity · in · the · field · of · advertising · and · public · relations · and · offers · economic · conditions · more · ambiguous · and · virtualized · than · most · other · countries · , · a · religious · call · for · unequivocal · truth · , · values · , · and · knowledge · is · able · to · vibrate · in · the · same · space · and · at · the · same · time. · Or · are · the · prayer · calls · merely · another · series · of · speculative · signs · , · fluently · passing · into · the · virtual · world · of · Slumiya · - · sorry · , · Salmiya · - · thus · contributing · to · the · total · screen · called · "Kuwaiti · Reality"? ¶

​The · fascinating · thing · about · Blade · Runner · is · that· it · is · neither · entirely ·

utopian · nor · entirely · dystopian. · Kuwait · is · the · same. 

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 In Salmiya luxury cars are... 

    parked among rubbish bins. 

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Conventional · [[non-cyberpunk]] · science-fiction · novels · and · films · revel · in · the ·

optimistic · colonial · submissions · of · Martians. · Nothing · like · that · can · be · seen · in · Salmiya. · Kuwait · resents · neither · colonial · oppression · nor · racism · , · and · Adolf · Hitler · is · perceived · by · many · of · my · students · as · a · sort · of · a · rock · star. · So · far · , · nobody · could · explain · to · me · what · it · actually · is · that · makes · this · man · so · attractive · , · but · one · eagerly · insists · that · he · is · "inspiring" · and · a · "role · model" · or · that · he · is · simply · "always · on · one's · mind." · No · , · Kuwait · has · no · colonial · complex. · [4] · The · world · realized · this · in · 1982 · when · the · Kuwaiti · football · team · made · it · into · the · World · Cup · Finals. · During · the · match · against · France · , · France · scored · a · goal · while · some · of · the · Kuwaiti · players · had · stopped · playing · , · having · heard · a · whistle. · The · goal · was · initially · awarded · by · the · referee · who · had · not · blown · the · whistle · , · which · prompted · Kuwait · to · walk · off · the · pitch · in · protest. · They · eventually · resumed · playing · after · the · intervention · of · Sheikh · Fahd · Al-Ahmed · [[the · brother · of · the · then-Emir]] · who · walked · on · the · field · and · persuaded · the · referee · to · disallow · the · French · goal. · France · won · nevertheless · 4-1. · [5] ¶

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The · lack · of · a · colonial · complex · 

contributes · to · the · status · of · Salmiya · as · a · virtual · world · where · those · civilizational · clashes · that · we · can · observe · in · the · real · world · [[television · , · YouTube· , · etc.]] · are · absent. · Like · in · film · noir, · various · sources · might · tell · stories · that · contradict · one · another · , · but · nobody · will · bother · to · resolve · them. · The · narrative · strategy · of · film · noir · is · based · on · juxtaposition · , · misinformation · and · incompleteness. · Instead · of · providing · clarity · and · comfort · , · film · noir · disassembles. ​¶

The · result · is · perfect · cohabitation. · Immigrants · are

· willing · to · shelve · their · lives · without · resistance · while · the · others · play · the · role · of · phlegmatic · dandies · who · have · simply · decided · to · ignore · the · world · around · them. · This · , · too · , · matches · with · the · logic · of · film · noir: · since · the · winner · takes · it · all · , · everybody · else · must · lose · completely. ​¶

Women, · well, · women · get · stalked · once · in · a · while · in

· Salmiya · , · but · they · are · used · to · it. · Usually · they · take · refuge · in · a · corner · shop. ¶

Incompleteness · is · important · for · still · another · reason: ·

In · Kuwait · many · urban · projects · remain · unfinished. · The · phenomenon · is · so · conspicuous · that · "The · Aesthetics · of · the · Unfinished" · has · attracted · the · interest · of · international · researchers · who · put · together · lengthy · documentations. · ¶

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Has it always been like this? Obviously

not. Kuwait in the 50s and 60s vibrated the same cheerful and positive attitude towards a bright and technicized future that we encounter in American Science Fiction literature of the 1930s-40s. Kuwait's philosophy was in keeping with that of magazines like Amazing Stories or Astounding Science Fiction , which developed under the influence of positively minded Russian and Italian Futurism. It is not exaggerated to say that Kuwait was the world's last utopia. Like today in Dubai and Qatar , advertisements (with red and orange as dominant colors) invited tourists to indulge in a perfect blend of futurist technology and exoticism. Futurist houses - today to be admired as ruins in Salmiya - indicated an uncompromising concept of modernity and progress naturally mixed with traditional elements. Fascinated journalists from Life and National Geographic presented life in Kuwait as liberal , modern , and healthy. Urbanism was humane and modernity was at its best. 

 

Kuwait also was the pioneer in the

literary renaissance, its press being one of the freest on the planet. The Kuwaiti liberal Al-Arabi Magazine became the most popular magazine in the Arab world. 

Today the optimistic spirit of this

Futurism (minus the press freedom) can be found in Dubai while in Kuwait Futurism disappeared behind the black clouds of burning oilwells. For Kuwait , the Iraqi invasion has had about the same effect that the Hiroshima bomb had on the development of international Science Fiction literature. Technological optimism became impossible.

Today Kuwait lacks investments because

Kuwaiti businessmen prefer to invest abroad. Kuwaitis do not believe in the future of their own country. Partly this is due to Kuwait's pre-modern heritage: nomads don't believe in nations and borders and quickly move to another country. Bedouins are always on the move. The refusal to invest contrasts with Dubai , which , though being relatively hastily built on a shaggy economic ground and without much oil , attracts plenty of foreign investments.

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Middle Eastern Airlines

poster from 1962

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Al-Arabi Magazin (Kuwait) 1964

The contrast between Kuwait and the much

newer Dubai could not be bigger. It is related to the cyberpunk problem described above. Sometimes, Dubai aspires to look cyberpunk. For example , it has created a "graffiti mall" , which looks like ... a mall. So far, real cyberpunk can be found only in Kuwait. Dubai also has a "heritage wave" on its program, attempting to retrieve tradition and humaneness that might have gone lost in its sleek techno-universe. Dubai aspires to have what Kuwait used to have in the 1960s at least on paper: the right mixture of past, present, and future.

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Poster by Alain Gauthier, 1953

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Cover from the New Yorker, 1961; Kuwait Airways travel poster from 1965; Kuwait swimming pool in the 1970s.

The overlap of new religious and economic paradigms in the

late twentieth century is nowhere as obvious as in Kuwait. Cyberpunk stands for the exhaustion of the industrial economy , for the exhaustion of the avant-garde, and for the exhaustion of modern cultural values.* Compared with postmodern Kuwait , Dubai is highly modern.

 

In the 1970s and 80s , Kuwait and Saudi Arabia imported

Western modern architecture en masse. A wave of Islamization caught the Middle East at the same time. In other words , modernization was organized in the Gulf precisely at the moment when the Arab world began aborting modernity. In reality , Gulf regimes were always afraid of being modern because modernity brings democratic ideals and practices. They even the bring democratic ideals and practice.

 

In Kuwait , the present cyberpunk situation is the result of

these constellations.

 

*Let's not forget that postmodernism was born in nearby Iran in 1979 when modern ideals were, for the first time, very consistently questioned. 

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"Gᑌᒪᖴ ᖴᑌTᑌᖇIᔕᗰ"

 

Fatima Al-Qadiri and Sophia Al-Maria find the taste of an

avant-garde culture in the Middle East that they name “Gulf Futurism.” In an article praised by Bruce Sterling , the artists describe the Gulf as

 

"a region that has been hyper-driven into a present made up of interior wastelands, municipal master plans and environmental collapse, thus making it a projection of our global future. (…) Over the last fifty years , the Arabian Gulf has given birth to a very particular brand of futurism. It is a phenomena marked by a deranged optimism about the sustainability of both oil reserves and late capitalism. Similar to early 20th century Euro-Futurism and mid-century American kitsch and retro futurism, Gulf Futurism is evident in a dominant class concerned with master-planning and world-building, while the youth culture preoccupied with fast cars, fast tech and viddying a bit of ultra-violence." [6]

The picture is correct and applies to the whole Gulf. Still

one would do better disentangling the futurist elements from the cyberpunk ones. Master-planning (which was frantically practiced in Kuwait in the 1960s and 70s though never really implemented) is a futurist activity. But the youth culture appears to be more cyberpunk, which becomes graphically clear in the following description. The Gulf is marked by

 

"the isolation of individuals via technology, wealth and reactionary Islam, the corrosive elements of consumerism on the soul and industry on the earth, the erasure of history from our memories and our surroundings and finally, our dizzying collective arrival in a future no one was ready for."

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So much for Gulf Futurism. Let's come back to Dubai. Is Dubai,

which still radiates so much 20th century positive Futurist energy , already heading towards the cyberpunk culture of Kuwait? Dubai is built on a fragile ground and any sort of invasion similar to what happened in Kuwait in 1990 would plunge Dubai into the most authentic cyberpunk syndrome the world has ever seen.

Most people would today say that Dubai is ahead of Kuwait

because it is better organized , cleaner , etc. Kuwait is even eagerly emulating the Dubai model building its own Jumeira resort on its Failaka Island. However , in reality Dubai is not ahead , but Cyberpunk Kuwait is much ahead of Futurist Dubai. Kuwait is Dubai’s Future.

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Kuwait Times Oct 11, 1971

Above: Kuwait presented by Life Magazine in 1965. Below: modernist houses in Kuwait as introduced by National Geographic in the 1960s. Most of them have been demolished, and some can be found as ruins in Salmiya.

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Cyberpunk · developed · sub-genres · such · as · S t e a m p u n k · and · C l o c k p u n k · , · which ·

are ·  retro-aesthetic · categories · attempting · to · retrieve · futuristic · visions · of · past · eras · and · to · extrapolate · their · actual · technology. · Steampunk · evokes · a · Jules · Verne-like · universe · filled · with · Victorian · technologies · , · steam · locomotives · , · and · Captain · Nemo's · diving · apparatus. · At · the · same · time · , · it · maintains · cyberpunk’s · noir · atmosphere. · An · advanced, · "futuro-aesthetic" · form · of · cyberpunk · is · Biopunk · , · which · focuses · on · the · relations · between · biotechnology · and · information · technology. · In · B i o p u n k · , · bio-hackers · , · biotech · mega-corporations · , · and · dubious · agencies · engage · in · biological · modification · and · genetic · engineering. · Oppressive · governments · practice · mass · surveillance · and · manipulate · human · DNA · for · their · own · purposes. · After · Biopunk · comes · N a n o p u n k · , · which· is · the · most · recent · expression · of · cyberpunk · aesthetics . . . ¶

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I · suggest · to · call · Kuwait's · aesthetic · category · "Oilpunk" ·

because · here · the · world · of · the · 1980s · still · dominates · an · important · part · of · urban · objects · as · well · as · common · perceptions. · The · 1980s · was · the · time · before · the · Iraqi · invasion · , · and · it · sticks · as · a · golden · age · in · the · mind · of · Kuwaitis · [[as · shows · the · local · success · of · the · recent · Kuwaiti-made · retro-thriller · "Back · to · Q82 "]]. · [7] · Apart · from · that · , · the · most · important · element · has · not · changed · since · the · 1980s: · the · dependence · on · oil · is · still · as · strong. ¶

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Sometimes · the · sand · is · blown · into · the · city · -- · greetings · from · the · desert · of ·

the · real. ¶

 Example of Steampunk 

 Courtesy Vladimir Petkovic 

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Looking · closer · , · the · 1980s · were · not · as · bright · for · Kuwait · as · they · appear ·

to · be. · 1982 · is · also · the · year · of · the · Kuwait · stock · market · crash · , · which · has · been · identified · as · the · biggest · financial · crash · in · human · history. · In · some · obscure · souq · , · Kuwaitis · created · the · biggest · financial · bubble · ever · in · an · artisanal · fashion. · The · phenomenon · has · been · compared · to · the · Dutch · Tulip · Bulb · Mania. · In · 1982 · , · enthusiastic · , · mostly · nouveau-riche · , · Kuwaitis · traded · 29,000 · unsecured · checks · worth · 94 · billion · dollars [[the · Madoff· Pyramid · of · 2008 · was · worth · "only" · 65 · billions]]. · When · the · market · crashed, · the · crash · was · as · virtual · as · the · bubble. · People · simply · stopped · trading · as · if · the · market · had · never · existed. · Some · blamed · conspiracies. · Nassim · Al-Mutawa, · the · biggest · loser · in · the · stock · bubble · [[he · owed · something · like · $10.5 · billion]], · blamed · his · downfall · on · the · established · commercial · families · who · resented · his · success. [8] ¶

Ironically, · the · crash · took · place · in · the · Souq · Al-Manakh · , · which · is · a ·

rather · "futurist" · building. · Built · 1973-75 · , · it · is · the · work · of · the · famous · Massachusetts · Architects · Collaborative · TAC · founded · by · Bauhaus · man · Walter · Gropius, · and · initially · even · integrated · a · station · for · a · cyberpunkish · monorail · line · [[that· would · never · be · built]]. · Made · of · sandblasted · raw · concrete · , · the · Souq · Al-Manakh · is · true · Gropius · style. · During · the · oil · boom · , · the · souq · began · functioning · as · a · parallel · and · informal · trading · center. · It · was · more · a · casino · than · a · stock · exchange · ,· and · the · crash · is · called · the · "Souq · Al-Manakh · Crash." · [[See · footnote · [9] · on · the · meaning · of · 'manakh']] ¶ 

From · an · architectural · point · of · view· , · the · Souq · Al-Manakh· is · a · curiosity · as ·

it · represents · a · modified · multistory · parking · lot · with · offices · on · the · top · floor · and · retail · stores · at · the · bottom. · Neither · stores · nor · offices · ever · functioned · as · intended · and · the · building · can · stand · as · a · symbol · of · Kuwait · city’s · urban · void. ¶ 

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 1980s Kuwait monorail proposal.   The rail was supposed to loop   around the old souk district 

 Picture courtesy Sawleff.com 

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 Chiba monorail   built 1980 

1982 · is · a · magic · year. · First · , · it · blessed ·

the · world · with · two · major · cyberpunk · movies · , · Akira · and · Blade · Runner. · Equally · released · in · 1982 · was · The · Clash's · "Rock · the · Casbah," · the · arguably · first · Oilpunk · video · ever. · It's · a · fictive · tale · of · a · ban · on · Western · rock · music · by · an · Arab · Gulf · monarch. · "The · Bedouins · they · brought · out · - · The · electric · camel · drum . . ." ¶

 

With · The · Clash · came · The· Crash. ¶

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Oilpunk · is · naturally · related · to ·

D i e s e l p u n k. · However · , · Diesel · fuel · has · a · much · higher · viscosity · than · oil · , · which · makes · Dieselpunk · more · retro · than · Oilpunk. · Oilpunk· is · basically · fluid. · Remember · what · has · been· said · above: · Bedouins · are · always · on · the · move · , · and · nomads · don't · believe · in · nations · and · borders. · Everything · is · fluid. 

 

Being · equally · close · to · Steampunk · ,·

Dieselpunk · concentrates · on · the · World · War I · and · interwar · periods · when · the · Diesel · engine · replaced · the · steam · engine. · Much · of · Dieselpunk · aesthetics · is · inspired · by · WWI · themes. · Its · fashion · includes · waistcoats · , · bomber · jackets · , · wristwatches · , · goggles· , · and · overalls. · By · contrast· , · the · Oilpunk · dresscode · is · impeccably · white · dishdashas · or · thobes. · Furthermore · , · Oilpunk · takes · place · in · the · aftermath · of · an · optimistic · oil · boom · that · its · protagonists · attempt · to · prolong · infinitely · though · without · being · able · to · fend · off · some · of · those · dystopian · aspects · that · come · almost · automatically · with · the · boredom · of · utopias. 

 

Closest · to · Oilpunk · is · perhaps ·

D e c o p u n k. · Decopunk · is · a · form · of · Dieselpunk · that · remains · inherently · utopian · and · moves · away · from · Dieselpunk’s · war · themes. · It · might· fit · because · many · of · Kuwait's · remaining · older · buildings · are · indeed · Art · Deco· , · for ·  example · the · old · Kuwait · University · Clock · Tower. ¶ 

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 Souq Al-Manakh 

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 Attempted monorail station? 

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C o a l p u n k · , · would · it · exist · , ·

would · comprise · winding · towers · , · freight · cars · , · pump · rooms · , · and · allotment · gardens · with · android · garden · gnomes. · This · picture · is · from · the · Duisburg · Landscape · Park. 

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 Oilpunk garb 

 Kuwait University Clock Tower 

The · Souq · Al-Manakh · Crash · shifted

· Kuwait · from · optimistic · Petro-Futurism · to · Oilpunk. · The · year · 1982 · is · pivotal. · Still · on · June · 21 · 1982, · Kuwait · had · amazed · the · world · with · its · unique · self-assured · behavior · at · the · FIFA · World · Cup · in · Spain. · Almost · exactly · two · months · later, · on · August · 20 · [10], · the · country · experienced · the · world's · biggest · stock · exchange · crash · ever · [[Blade · Runner · was · released · on · June · 25]]. · The · Oilpunk · phenomenon · starts · here · on · that · day · in · August · 1982 · , · and · the · Iraqi · invasion · would · merely · accomplish · this · development · eight · years · later · in · August · 1990. ¶

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Also · , · for · Kuwait · , · 1982 · marks · the · end · of · the · age · of · innocence: · a ·

series· of · terrorist · attacks · began · right · afterwards. · In · 1983, · two · embassies, · the · airport, · and · three · oil · plants · were · bombed · in · a · 90-minute · coordinated · attack · by · Iranians · to · protest · against · those · countries · that · were · financing · Iraq · in · the · war. · The · Iraq-Iran · war· as · well · as · the · Islamic · revolution · had · profoundly · changed · the · political · landscape , · and · it · took · place · right · next · door. · Artillery · shooting · from · the · Iraqi · border · could · be · heard · in · Kuwait · City. · In · 1984 · , · a · Kuwait · Airways · flight · to · Pakistan · was · hijacked · by · Lebanese · from · the · group · 'Islamic · Holy · War' · who · demanded · the · release · of · seventeen · prisoners · held · in · Kuwait. · On · May · 20, · 1984 · at · 11 · am · , · air-raid · sirens · wailed · in · Kuwait · City· , · sparking · a · considerable · amount · of · temporary · panic. · It · was · only · a · test. ·  

On · May · 26, · 1985, · a · suicide · driver · rammed · a

· bomb-laden · car · into · the · motorcade · of · the · Emir · who · was · on · his · way · to · the · Sief · Palace. · The · Emir · suffered · only · light · injuries. · Also · in · 1985, · a · TWA · Flight · to · Rome · was · hijacked· , · and · , · once · again , · the · demand · was · the · release · of · the · seventeen · prisoners. · In · 1987· , · Jesse · Jackson · visited · Kuwait · to · negotiate - · in · vain · - · the · release· of · the · convicts. · Eventually · , · the · seventeen · gained · freedom · during · the · Iraqi · invasion · when · 1,300 · detainees · escaped · from · the · central · prison. · The taxis · were · lining · up · in · front · of · the · jail... [11] 

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The · Iraqi · invasion · took · place · on · August · 2, · 1990 · and · would · have · an ·

equivalent · in · the · Neuromancer’s · destruction · of · Tokyo · through · a · mysterious · explosion · in · December · 1992. · [12] · Apart · from · that · , · it · is · not · much · more · real · than · the · Tokyo · explosion. · According · to · Baudrillard · , · "they · never · saw · each · other: · when · the · Americans · finally · appeared · behind · their · curtain · of · bombs · the · Iraqis · had · already · disappeared · behind · their · curtain · of · smoke." · [13] · In · February · 1991 · , · weather · satellites · detected · extensive · smoke · clouds · over · Kuwait · because · Saddam · Hussein · had · detonated · almost · seven · hundred · oil · wells · ; · soon · the · smoke · would · spread · over · a · wide · area. · However · , · the · dystopian · images · of · an · invaded · Kuwait · , · eternalized · by · the · IMAX · movie · Fires · of · Kuwait · and· Werner · Herzog's · Lessons · of · Darkness · , · insinuate · a · disaster · not · real · but · gaped · at · by · fascinated · crowds · all · over · the · world · as · if · it · were · fiction. · Even · the · CNN · style · of · reporting · the · events · was · unreal · and · many · people · found · that · this · war · resembles · a · video · game. ¶

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If · anything · at · all, · the · invasion · adds · to · Kuwait's · particular · cyberpunk · feel. ·

In · this · place · , · the · future · was · already · there · , · separating · a · near-apocalypse · from · a · post-apocalypse · , · permitting · us · to · dwell · forever · in · the · zone · between · both. · This · zone · is · insecure · by · definition · [[it · is · situated · between · Saudi · Arabia · and · Iran · ,· and · at · some · point · , · the · army · of · the · Islamic · State · was · only · seven · hundred · kilometers · away]]. · But · we · certainly · have · nothing · to · fear: · There · are · still · 15,000 · American · troops · stationed · in · Kuwait · , · which · is · a · reminder · of · the · past · but · also · the · insurance · that · nothing · evil · will · happen · in · the · future. ¶

"You · asked · yourself · if · , · after · the · occupation · , · the · nation · had · returned  .   .  . 

They · hadn't · brought · the · real · Kuwait · back, · just · only · something · that · looked · like · it." ·

(Saud · Alsanousi · , · Mama · Hissa's · Mice)

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Yes, · Salmiya · is · a · safe · place. · Not · only

· because · of · the · Kuwaiti · Marine · battleships · that · are · silently · floating · day · and · night · in · the · Salmiya · Bay · like · bored · crocodiles. · There · is · also · the · gigantic · bronze · fist · of · invasion · martyr · Sheikh · Fahd · , · grandiosely · directed · at · the · sea · , · that · protects · us · from · further · invasions · from · the · other · side · of · the · Arabic/Persian · Gulf. · Sheikh · Fahd · , · who · officially · died · defending · the · Dasman · Palace · against · Iraqi · soldiers · [14] · , · is · the · same · person · who · stepped · onto · the · football · field · in · 1982 · during · the · World · Cup. · And · this · threatening · fist · , · worthy · of · obelisks · and · sphinxes · of · the · Nile · , · is · his · monument. · It · is · here · , · on · the · coast · of · Salmiya · [[which · was · called · "Al Nasr" · during · the · Iraqi · occupation]] · [15] · that · the · first · Iraqi · troops · landed · in · 1990 · on · August · 2 · at · 2am · and · invaded · the · country · within · hours · without · meeting · much · resistance. ¶

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 Sheikh Fahd's fist within a Matrix-like environment in Salmiya 

The · main · difference · between · Kuwait · and · Dubai · is · that · in · Kuwait · there · are ·

no · tourists. · In · Kuwait · it · is · not · necessary · to · polish · a · glitzy · surface · for · masses · of · people · looking · for · all · that · is · possible. · Cyberpunk · excludes · mass · tourism. ¶

Grey · desert · dust · is · falling · on ·

Kuwait · turning · the · city · into · the · magical · interior · of · a · neon-lit · snow · globe · [[the · resemblance · between · shopping · malls · and · snow · globes · deserves · to · be · explored · further]]. · Oilpunk · is · what · Walter · Benjamin · called · "Dream · Kitsch" · or · a · "dream · that · has · grown · gray" · because · it · is · covered · with · dust. · [17] ·

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For · Benjamin, · the · dust · is · the · most · interesting · part · as · it · contradicts · the · repetition · of · modernity. · Oilpunk · is · also · Olalquiaga’s · civilization · covered · under · dust · , · which · , · after · the · collapse · of · its · last · illusions · , · forces · its · civilization · into · the · brackets · of · a · time · that · has · been · forever · suspended. · Olalquiaga · writes · this · in · The · Artificial · Kingdom: · A · Treasury · of · the · Kitsch · Experience · and · Megalopolis. · [18] · Oilpunk · [[or · any · cyberpunk · for · that · matter]] · can · only · take · place · in · a · perpetual · present. ¶

However · , · in · this · country · the · dust · metaphor · is · relevant · for · still · another ·

 reason. · Kuwait · Oilpunk · is · the · gentle · immersion · of · a · world · into · the · aftermath · of · yesterday’s · disasters · in · the · form · of · a · powdery · cloud · mixed · with · chemical · agents · that · are · the · reminders · of · Iraq's · former · weapons. ¶

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Here

The · great · Islamic · thinker · Ibn · Khaldun · (1332–1406) · wrote · in · his · Muqaddimah: ·

“It · should · be · known · that· since · [ . . . ] · desert · life · no · doubt · is · the · reason · for · bravery· , · savage · groups · are · braver · than · others. · They · are · , · therefore · , · better · able · to · achieve · superiority.” · [19] · But · he · also · saw · that · , · eventually · , · nomadic · conquerors · will · succumb · to · the · temptations · of · luxurious · city · life · , · and · that · this · is · the · beginning · of · the · end.  

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T h e  D a t s u n   Z

In · spite · of · the · generalized · "Rebel · without · a · Cause" · driving · style · , · I · do ·

not · see · a · single · Kuwaiti · James · Dean. · In · the · 1960s · , · rich · , · bored · and · spoiled · kids · imitating · James · Dean · were · trying · to · be · different. · This · was · a · typical · '60s · symptom · , · impossible · to · reenact · in · Kuwait · of · 2018. · The · reason · is · that · Oilpunk · emanates · a · machoist · aristocratic · feeling · permitting · neither · Deanian · confusion · nor · social · commentary. · The · cultural · icon · is · not · Dean · but · rather · the · "rock · star" · mentioned · above. ¶

Oilpunks · prefer · gas-guzzling · Ferraris · and

· Lamborghinis · [[gas · costs · very · little · here]]. · The · futuristically · flat · Lamborghinis · seem · to · come · out · of · the · new · Blade · Runner · 2049 · or · the · video · game · Cyberpunk · 2077. · However, · the · ultimate · Oilpunk · car · is · the · Datsun · Z · from · 1973 · [20] , · and · this · not · only · because · the · letter · 'Z' · suggests · a · connection · with · the · city · of · Zion · in · The · Matrix. ·  

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This · small · but · powerful · sports · car · , · which · was · extremely · popular · in ·

Kuwait · during · the · Golden · Decade · , · can · be · spotted · remarkably · often · on · the · streets · of · Salmiya. · Perfectly · restored · [[rust · is · no · problem · in · dry · Kuwait · ; · we · are · not · in · the · rust · belt]] · it · comes · with · a · wooden · steering · wheel, · black · chafed · leather · seats, · no · power · windows · but · a · modern · sound · system. · Its · attitude · tends · to · be · noisy · and · aggressive. ·  

The · Datsun · Z · [[also · lovingly · called · "Zeddy"]] · harks · back · to · Kuwait’s · golden

· age, · which · began · precisely · in · the · year · when · this · car · was · born. · 1973 · is · the · year · of · the · oil · shock · , · which · inflated · oil · prices · and · brought · unfathomable · wealth · to · the · country. 

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 Datsun Z:  The ultimate Oilpunk car 

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The · 'Z' · was · built · in · Kanagawa · , · South · of · Tokyo · and · just · forty · kilometers ·

from · Chiba · across · the · Tokyo · Bay · , · by · a · futurist · and · optimistic · Japan · still · striving · to · be · absolument · moderne. · The · Datsun · Z · challenged · international · brands · like · Jaguar · and · the · Corvette · and · would · soon · become · the · most · popular · sports · car · in · the · US. ¶

In · Kuwait · , · via · its · Oilpunk · demeanor · , · the · 'Z' · establishes · a · unique · link

· between · the · desert · nation · and · the · mighty · industrial · nation · of · Nippon: · in · 1973 · , · Kuwait · could · still · dream · of · becoming · a · sort · of · Middle · Eastern · Japan. · Kuwait · was · the · world's · biggest · building · site · , · had · the · biggest · oil · field · , · and · the· biggest · water · distillation · plant. · For · Kuwait · , · Japan · was · fascinating · because · of · its · mixture · of · modernity · and · tradition. · Many · newspaper · articles · from · the · 1970s · and · 1980s · show · how · much · Kuwait · emulated · this · East · Asian · nation. · Look · for · example · at · this · column · from · the · Kuwait · Times · in · 1971: ¶

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 Kuwait Times, Dec. 7. 1971 

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 Let's just zoom in to see the   picture from the Kuwait   Times a little more clearly 

Go · Zeddy · go!! · Unfortunately · , · imports · of · used · 'Zs' · got · banned · in · 2014 · 

because · of · the · hanky · panky · surrounding · the · imports · of · these · cars · from · the · Philippines. ¶

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Let's · not · forget · that · another · 'Z' · was · popular · at ·

that · time. · The · Yom · Kippur · War · began · in · 1973 · , · too · , · and · a · boycott · of · Coca · Cola · was · launched · in · precisely · that · year. · Kuwaitis · were · drinking · Zam · Zam · Cola. ¶

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- "So · , · what · is · it · like · to · live · in · a · desert · overgrown · with · landscapes · of ·

simulacra · serving · the · upper · circle · of · global · capital?" ¶

- "Thank · you, · I · can’t · complain· , · I’m · just · watching · the · film." ¶

That · was · a · good · answer · , · I ·

think. · But · the · guy · still · insists. · He · wants · to · know · what's · the · most · interesting · part · for · me · in · this · film. · Well · , · to · say · the · truth · , · what · fascinates · me · most · is · that · Kuwaitis · seem · to · be · incapable · of · anger. · Milan · Kundera · describes · Central · Europe · as · "an · uncertain · zone · of · small · nations · between · Russia · and · Germany." · Small · Eastern · European · nations · exist · on · the · edge · of · extinction · or · absorption · by · larger · powers · and · are · therefore · constantly · angered · by · their · own · disappearance: · "A · French · , · a · Russian · , · or · an · Englishman · is · not · used · to · asking · questions · about · the · very · survival · of · his · nation. · His · anthems · speak · only · of · grandeur · and · eternity. · The · Polish · anthem · , · however · , · starts · with · the · verse: · 'Poland · has · not · yet · perished'" · (Kundera). · [21] ¶ 

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 National Assembly of Kuwait 

 with Panasonic Tower 

Like · Poland · , · Kuwait · is · situated · between · competing · powers · [[Saudi · Arabia · and

· Iran]], · and · above · that · , · is · occasionally · threatened · by · a · terrorist · state. · Still · it · enjoys · the · lightness · of · being · that · is · normally · common · to · large · and · secure · nations. · Maybe · Kuwait · is · a · Nautilus · [[to · use · another · image · from · Jules · Verne]], · which · is · a · self-contained · underwater · society · turned · inward. · Or · maybe · faith · makes · anger · impossible. · Or · maybe · the · Gulf · has · already · moved · , · as · Sophia · Al · Maria · surmises · ,· to · the · akhira· (that · is · , the · next · world). · Or · maybe · xXxxX · X · xxXX · XXXX · X · XXXXX ·. .· Or · , · still · another · possibility · , · the · logic · goes · like · this: · having · survived · one · invasion · by · plunging · the · entire · nation · into · a · dream · world · , · the · sequel · can · only · be · a · further · dream · in · a · dream · in · a · dream... · Or · am · I · dreaming? ¶

Kuwait · would · thus · be · the · exaltation · of · what ·

some · believe · the · Middle · East · to · be · in · general: · the · past · lives · here · alongside · the · present · , · and · the · future · was · already · written · into · the · past · , · managing · to · produce · its · own · private · history · in · parallel · with · world · history. · This · is · how · Oilpunk · would · extend · into · the · deepest · layers · of · culture: · some · of · my · students · inform · me · that · the · greatest · discoveries · of · Einstein · and · thermodynamics · had · all · been · put · into · the · scriptures · in · the · seventh · century. ¶

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Good · news! · We · can · thus · relax · and · participate · in · the · consensual · illusion · 

called · Kuwait · and · look · for · thrills · in · Salmiya. · OIL · IS · ADRENALINE · AND · KUWAIT · IS · OILPUNK!! ¶ 

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Kuwait’s · cityscape · is · "a · sequence · of · fragments, · dispersed · among · shards · from · different · epochs , · all · reminders · of · an · unaccomplished · urban · vision , · a · kaleidoscope · of · uncorrelated · episodes · of · obsolescence , · adaptation , · and · reinterpretation." · Roberto  · Fabbri · [22]

In architecture, Oilpunk is the kind of modernism that many European

architects were trying to avoid when putting forward revolutionary ideas such as "Small is Beautiful." But this was typically Western. In Asia and parts of the Middle East, refinement and the "small is beautiful" concept remained widely unknown until the 1990s. Here metabolist (brutalist) architecture developed under demographic pressure and was considered superior because it could solve practical problems. This architecture was also seen as more imaginative, spontaneous, less traditionalist, and free. That's how REM KOOLHAAS describes the phenomenon of "decadent modernism." [23] In the Gulf, governments high on petroleum accelerated this architectural “liberalization” process. In Kuwait , the result is the aesthetics of Oilpunk. ¶ 

The · red · and · green · Budweiser · neon ·

sign · shines · brightly · in · the · Buffalo · Café · in · this · puritan · country · where · alcohol · is · forbidden. · Dark · glasses · create · inscrutable · images. · Busty · shisha · smokers · with · heavily · painted · faces · are · looking · through · me. · · Noir · needs · to · be · examined · on · street · level. · Gargantuan · potholes · , · police · sirens · ,· the · smell · of · burned · rubber. · Corruption · is · in · the · air. ·  Huge · American · SUVs, · liposuced · lips· , · Vaporwave · music. · Somebody · is · wearing · a · cross. · International · trauma · teams · , · access · denied. · A · line · drawn · in · the · sand... · The · numbering · in · the · parking · lot · makes · absolutely · no · sense...

Is · this · an · updated · version ·

of · Chandler's · sleazy · bars · in · Los · Angeles · in · the · 1930s? 

I · order · a · hawawshi · , · but the

· Egyptian · waiter · brings · me · two · kebabs · instead. · Foreigners· don't· order · hawawshi · , · only · kebabs · and · shish · taouk. · A · Kuwaiti · man · in · full · traditional · gear · - · dishdasha · , · ghutra· and · 'agal · - · passes · by · pushing · a · pram. · A · truly · rare · sight · , · almost · as · unusual · as · a · Kuwaiti · smoking · a · Comoy · pipe · or · a · woman · riding · a · motorbike... ¶

kipco towerVignette.jpg

 Kipco Tower in the business district 

“You · might · think · of yourself · as · big · and · powerful · and · worship · the · dangerous · philosophy· of · the · “nothing · can · happen · to · ME" · belief. · However · , · eventually · you · will · recognize · that · inside · this· nervous · and · explosive · oil · climate ·