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Tag Archives: Fueling Energy

System of a Down



Resource depletion and anxiety are not new, nor is the paralyzing knowledge that a particular form of energy is harmful or unsustainable.  How has our relation to energy changed over time? What differences do specific energy sources make to human values and politics ? How have changing energy resources transformed culture?

This collection of scholarly essays, brief reflections, and info blurbs will focus on intersections between energy, history, and a range of cultural formations, including literature, film, art, digital media, and popular culture. We will include essays that touch on a wide range of energy resources (dung, wood/charcoal, coal, tallow, plant oils, whale oil, kerosene, petroleum, natural gas, nuclear, biofuels, solar, wind, wave, steam, and human energy). We also plan to include essays on energy resources like electricity (which circulates as a secondary form of energy generated by wood, coal, etc). We are also curious about dams as projects of decolonization and modernization.

We hope for broad geographic scope in this collection, with attention to place-specific concerns and the spatial relations entailed in different forms of energy use, including what Fernando Coronil has called the “international division of nature.” If the shift from wood to coal allowed for massive increases in energy consumption with less land/woodlots devoted to energy production, as Timothy Mitchell argues, what other shifts in scale are important for thinking about the history of energy formations? As Laurie Shannon argues in a PMLA essay on tallow, the shift from energy produced within the household to modes of energy sourced elsewhere suggests that questions of scale are central for thinking about energy. Ken Hiltner’s argument that pollution increases with the changing spatial concentration of urbanLondonsuggests the urgency of contemplating energy in relation to scale in earlier periods. Is it possible that all forms of energy are “dirty” when scaled up to meet demand?

The question of periodization is crucial to this project. How do we periodize cultural production around material resources that have been unread or elided by critics? How do questions of energy become legible in moments of crisis? What is the role of energy scarcity and profligacy? The role of an “energy unconscious” delieates one mode of analysis, as does the simultaneity of different modes of energy resources. Thus periodization is not a simple matter. Consider Dipesh Chakrabarty’s attention to the coincidence of the age of Enlightenment and the Anthropocene, Mitchell’s comparison of wood, coal, oil and the forms of social and political organization they entail, and Michael Pollan’s account of the shift from the sun and fossil fuels in the industrialization of food.

In addition to periodization, we’re interested in essays that explore methodology: protocols of reading that are attuned to questions of energy (or its absence) within a given text. How do we read for energy in relation to the sociology and materiality of literary production and distribution? How do we identify cultural forms that are particularly attuned to these questions? How does energy put pressure on literary and cultural forms? Does genre look different when we think about energy?

We hope to gather writing that is multiply interdisciplinary, drawing on insights from political economy, political ecology, environmental history, eco-criticism, postcolonial and globalization studies, materialisms old and new, including thing theory and actor network theory.


March 15, 2012 for abstracts

December 1, 2012 for essays

Length:  6000 words


(As indicated above, in addition to research essays we are interested in including shorter pieces related to any of the issues explored in this collection).

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