American Petrocultures (Graduate Seminar, American Studies, WS 2020/21) co-taught by Moritz Ingwersen and Brent Ryan Bellamy
The twentieth century has been called the American century and the American century was built on oil. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are confronted with the ecological repercussions of a modernity that was based on carbon energy and it has become imperative to envision a future beyond oil and fossil fuels. Through the lens of American culture, this course enables students to reflect on the impact of oil on their everyday life. From road movies to plastic bags, the traces of oil are ubiquitous in American consumer culture. Yet, oil usually only enters public consciousness when it stops flowing or when it spills. Oil may be understood as the life blood of modern industry and the lubricant of the American way of life. At the same time, it has produced some of the most iconic and painful images of ecological devastation, American imperialism, and environmental racism. Representations of petroculture produce their own aesthetics, from burning oil fields, to gleaming chrome fenders, oil drenched workers, and pipeline protests.
Against the backdrop of the global climate emergency, an American government that has undone crucial environmental protection policies, and the dire need to imagine alternative energy futures, this course frames encounters with oil in American literature and culture. With an emphasis on works of literary fiction, students will engage with a wide variety of cultural texts, from science fiction and horror, to graphic narratives, nonfiction film, and photography. Key theoretical readings will come from the emerging fields of the Energy and Environmental Humanities and highlight themes such as environmental justice, petrofiction, petromodernity, the dark sublime, the anthropocene, Indigenous activism, the energy unconscious, post-apocalypse, and ecotopia. Through a variety of collaborative exercises, students will translate the specifics of American energy imaginaries into their own cultural contexts, reflecting on the materiality, impact, and infrastructure of energy consumption.
This course is supported by the University of Konstanz fund "Digitale Lehrformate in internationalen Co-Teaching-Teams."
Brent Ryan Bellamy
Dr. Bellamy is a lecturer in the departments of English and of Cultural Studies at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. He is a member of the Petrocultures Research Group and After Oil School (founded at the University of Alberta) and has widely lectured and published on the energy humanities, US culture and literature, and science fiction studies. His publications include Remainders of the American Century: Post-Apocalyptic Novels in the Age of US Decline (Wesleyan University Press, forthcoming, 2021), An Ecotopian Lexicon (University of Minnesota Press, 2019), Materialism and the Critique of Energy (MCM, 2018), and Science Fiction and the Climate Crisis (special issue of Science Fiction Studies, 2018).
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