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Beyond Petroleum. Reimagining Energy in Contemporary Film and Literature

Like climate change, the shift to alternative energy sources is not just a technological challenge but a cultural issue too, necessitating a rethinking of dominant values, narratives and cultural ideas. One important development is the emergence of the ‘energy humanities’, a subfield that examines how cultural artefacts like movies and literary texts reflect on particular sources and uses of energy. Upon closer inspection, however, the field suffers from ‘petromyopia’: a particular focus on the representation of oil, which, though understandable, implies a lack of attention to works of fiction and nonfiction that deal with electricity, solar energy and wind energy – alternative forms of energy that play increasingly important roles in a world suffering from excess carbon dioxide, and which are increasingly present in art and culture too.

Critically reusing a slogan from oil giant BP, this project looks beyond petroleum, by studying the representation of alternative energy sources in contemporary literature and film. The imagination of new energy regimes has recently acquired a new urgency and visibility in the light of climate change and tough-oil phenomena like fracking. Without neglecting the prehistory of contemporary energy discourse, the project will analyse contemporary cultural artefacts. To that end, it relies on insights from (film) narratology, discourse analysis and recent historicist scholarship, as well as on theoretical insights from ecocriticism, science studies and posthumanism. This project complements existing work in the energy humanities and participates in the rethinking of values and narratives associated with energy in a post-oil age.

Date:1 Oct 2017 →  30 Sep 2021
Keywords:Ecocriticism, Film Studies, Energy Humanities, Comparative literary studies, Contemporary English literature
Disciplines:Comparative literature studies, Fiction film, Literatures in English, Narratology, Literary criticism