Anne Pasek, Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultural Studies and the School of the Environment at Trent University
Cajetan Iheka, Associate Professor of English at Yale University
Caren Irr, Professor of English at Brandeis University
Victoria Googasian, Assistant Professor at Georgetown University- Qatar.
Trish Kahle, Assistant Professor at Georgetown University- Qatar.
Firat Oruc, Assistant Professor at Georgetown University- Qatar.
FIRAT ORCU [00:00:02]: Today’s webinar is part of the Energy Humanities Research Initiative, which has been generously supported by Georgetown Qatar’s Center for International and Regional Studies. Our research initiative now in its second year focuses in particular on the importance of lived experiences to the to the study of Energy’s past, present and future. We hope to facilitate the emergence of a new focus on energy as lived, everyday lived experience in order to add complexity and texture to the narratives within the field that have primarily focused on questions of state building, international relations, economic development and technological systems. Last year, we featured an inaugural webinar on Interdisciplinary Approaches to Everyday Energy with Dominic Boyer in Anthropology, Sarah Pritchard in History, and Jennifer Wenzel in Literature. In addition, we had three podcast discussions that focused and drew attention to different material or experiential facets of energy culture, with Elizabeth Barrios on Venezuelan oil literature, Anto Mohsin on electricity and everyday life in Doha and Diana Montano on the electrification of Mexico City. Our focus last year led us to closer attention to recurring themes and questions in studying lived experiences of energy such as representation, affect, structures of feeling and phenomenology of energy forms. As we were trying to formalize these concepts, we quickly realized that creative esthetic work with hydrocarbon in particular was a key venue to look at. To this end we produced a new podcast cluster themed as Energy Aesthetics: Representing Lived Experiences of Oil. We brought together creative artists to present their views on how their art deals with energetic life. We spoke with Venezuelan poet and scholar Santiago Acosta on abstract kinetic petro art and with Nigerian artist, photographer, and writer Victor Ehikhamenor about his installation, The Wealth of Nations and hopefully pretty soon with Iranian graphic artist Amin Roshan on his silkscreen printing work with crude oil. You can find all our previous activities on our web page, and we will share a link on the chat box. We conceived tonight’s webinar with the aim of bringing creative work and academic scholarship on energy together. We are really fortunate to have three distinguished panelists with recently published or forthcoming books to help us navigate new directions in studying the cultural and esthetic life of oil. I am honored to briefly introduce them being fully aware that these introductions are not really adequate to capture comprehensively the brilliant work they have produced. Our first speaker, Cajetan Iheka, is Associate Professor of English at Yale University. He’s the author of Naturalizing Africa: Ecological Violence Agency and Postcolonial Resistance in African Literature 2018, and a new one just came out from Duke University Press titled, African Ecomedia: Network Forms Planetary Politics. Our second panelist, Caren Irr, is Professor of English at Brandeis University. In addition to being author or editor of five previous books, she had recently edited a collection of critical essays titled Life in Plastic: Artistic Responses to Petromodernity, published by University of Minnesota Press. And our third panelist, Anne Pasek is the Canada Research Chair in media, culture and the environment and an Assistant Professor cross-appointed between the Department of Cultural Studies and the School of the Environment at Trent University. Her forthcoming monograph entitled Fixing Carbon: Mediating Matter in a Warming World, is a comparative study of how carbon became legible to different communities to different effects. The running order for tonight will be as follows. Each of our panelists will give their introductory remarks about the panel theme for about seven minutes. This will be followed by a moderated discussion session, which will be facilitated by Vicky. During this discussion, we will pose a question to a specific panelist and then offer time for other panelists to respond to that answer to build on a point they have raised and so on. And finally, we will open the floor to audience discussion questions. Trish will moderate the audience Q&A session and wrap up the discussion. Two housekeeping items, one at the bottom of the screen at the very right. You will find an icon for close captioning, which will provide a live transcript and two, our attendees can post questions at any time using the Q&A function at the bottom of the screen. We will make sure to address them during the Q&A session. Finally, I would like to announce that we are in the process of drafting a call for papers and initial virtual working group on energy and affect theory with the goal of a special journal issue. Those who are interested in participating in or learning more about the project or have suggestions, please kindly get in touch with us. Now I will go ahead and give it to Cajetan for his opening remarks.
CAJETAN IHEKA [00:07:58]: Thank you so much for that amazing introduction, and to you and Trish and Vicky for their excellent invitation. It’s a pleasant surprise when it came, and it was exciting to see the work you’re doing. I wish this was in-person, but we’ll make do with this and hopefully, we’ll have opportunities to work in the future. So I’m just going to share screen, because I just want to share a few images, including Victoria Ehikhamenor’s work that was mentioned in the introduction. So basically, I’ll just talk through them. So I just want to talk through the notion of “oil afterlives” in the Niger Delta and more broadly, and one of the things that struck me as I worked on my new book, which just came out, “African Ecomedia,” is really the way that oil is scholars have talked about the saturation of oil in our lives. I’m thinking of Bob Johnson’s recent work on mineral rites. The way that oil expenditure really saturates our life. But it seems to me too as I was researching this book, that even as artists, writers, and scholars we’ve also been unable to escape oil. I realized that for a chapter where I was working on oil that was where I had the most material to work with and for other materials like, say, uranium, where there were, at least from the African context, there were fewer artistic productions to work with, or the same way that there’s a parallel between the saturation of oil in our lives and its saturation in cultural production. I thought that was something I wanted to start with. For us to think about oil’s materiality, not only as an object of producing material, but also the way that it has become the form and thematic content of too much cultural production, especially from the global south. So that’s the one place that I want to start. So then oil in culture productions, animating culture productions, like this mural, which is in Mayo County, in Ireland, we begin to see the way that it’s the oil movement. So we see in this particular image of a Niger Delta writer-activist, an environmental matter if we think about the fact that this month marked 16 years that the Nigerian government killed Saro-Wiwa for his activism against oil exploration in the Niger Delta. But, what then makes this community in Ireland to choose Ken Saro-Wiwa as the icon of this mural, which they were developing as a protest against Shell’s plan to position an oil pipeline in their community? So we find a situation here where we find this crisscrossing that oil makes possible: the Nigerian community meeting an Irish community — a Nigerian community that’s been devastated by oil and one that is about to enter the oil business. So oil here becomes this animating principle that joins Nigeria to this European scene of oil production. So, in a way then, oil becomes this…it takes on this transnationality in this particular example that we’re seeing now. In the same way too, in addition to bringing these communities together oil is taking on…it becomes the medium through which the human and non-human meet. Ken Saro-Wiwa protesting against the devastation of his indigenous community, but is also interested in the way that oil is affecting the landscape. And we see the vegetation here struggling to breathe, in this particular image, struggling to make an appearance in this image, we see that as a marking: that’s a boundary, that’s a border, the borderland, the contact zone. So oil featuring and functioning as a contact zone, not just where two communities meet, but also where humans and non-humans meet for interaction. Then of course, there’s also the question of oil infrastructure itself, the way that media has come to deal with oil infrastructure itself. And as we look at the future of oil, one of the things that have been interesting to me at the moment is what happens in places like Niger Delta, what happens to this oil infrastructure as we move to renewables, as we move to non-fossil fuel. The insightful work that has been done in environmental humanities from Rob Nixon and others, have shown us more clearly the durability of oil. I’m thinking of Caren’s new work on plastic, for example, the way that they outlive…the long-lasting durée of this material. So what then? What do we do with this archival infrastructure that remains potent, that remains toxic, that remains active, even post-renewable? As the world moves on from oil, will these communities in the Niger Delta and other parts of the fringes, if we can call them that…the margin…what happens to these communities as oil moves on…as we move on from oil. That’s something I’ve been thinking about. And what role will cultural production play in this afterlife of oil? But again, there’s a sense in which one of the things that we think about, ultimately, then is to hold on to this notion of afterlife and interrogate it when it comes to oil, when it comes to plastic. To what extent, what is this “after”? That’s one something I’ve been I’ve started thinking about: what does “after” mean? What does “after” mean within the context of the continuous radiation of oil, even when we’ve moved on from it? Even when we moved on from these communities. I’m thinking of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s community Ogoniland where, after his execution, Shell left the area, and it was said that oil production has stopped. But did production really stop after Shell left? With the continuous spill from the pipelines, the corrosion of the pipelines, and what that means for contaminating the earth, contaminating the water in this environment. So the notion of “after” is something that I’ve been thinking about, more recently. I was contacted by an artist working in Nigeria in the Niger Delta, who is using pipelines, the discarded pipelines in the Niger Delta, to produce art. So he reached out I would send my work to talk about the process of producing the work with me. And it struck me that this is the moment where he is working a stream in pictures of working with this material, which is black, blackened from oil, from those and I’m thinking about the kind of entanglements, that kind of transcorporeality that is happening in that moment of artistic production, where he is immersed in oil, so to speak, and what does that mean for him? But also for the communities that have been immersed in oil over time before these pipelines were discarded and he is using them for his artistic production. Then the other thing to think about, for me, beyond thinking of oil as this contact zone beyond thinking of its afterlives, when we have moved on. Is to think of the way that its the kind of binary structure, if you can call it that, that oil produces. And this is Victor Ehikhamenor’s work “The Wealth of Nations,” which he first exhibited in 2015 in Indonesia at this biennale. And it’s interesting to me that the way that this resonates…the way that the situation in Niger Delta, which is the context of Victor’s work, the way it resonated with this history of violence — energy violence — in that community as well, in the same way that the Nigerian context works with the Irish example that I started with at the beginning. But the other thing that is interesting here is the way that pleasure, the way that spectacle, the way that pleasure becomes kind of an animated impulse here and that it’s easy to lose sight of the violence of oil. As we take in this particular exhibit. So unless you know the history of oil violence in Nigeria… that these drums also serve as…they’ve also been used by the Nigerian state in the 1990s…they were used for the extrajudicial executions that were happening in the country, when many people were lined up, when people put protesters, so-called protesters were lined up, tied to drums like this, and executed for their protest against the Nigerian state. But again, think about it, what is the thing that the Nigerian state is most concerned about, which is the preservation of oil wealth. It is to make sure that oil wealth continues to flow uninterrupted, not because it would be used as a common wealth, but because it is such, that it will fuel the pockets of Nigerian leaders. So here we begin to see the way that oil projects are becoming complete. Oil aesthetics is an incomplete aesthetics. Inasmuch as it shows…it links spaces…Inasmuch as it brings into view areas of the world that wouldn’t normally come into existence. We also begin to see them as incomplete projects. They need a filling out. They need contextualization. They need aestheticization. So the cultural life of oil itself is incomplete I think. When we speak about representation so that what we’ll find here are ways that images, text, and other kinds of cultural production the way that with oil, there is always something that exceeds the grasp of the representation before us. So that’s oil always needs a supplement inasmuch as it is a fundamental aspect of our lives. So, yeah, that’s where I would stop. I’m hoping I would be able to flesh out things when we would get to the conversation proper.
ORUC [00:21:12]: Thank you. Thanks so much for those remarks, Cajetan. Caren, please take it away.
CAREN IRR [00:21:22]: I was going to start sharing. Yes, because I want to share something. So, OK. All right. Thank you. I’m going to share the slides that I’ve prepared too. And these are basically slides just to give you a little bit more concrete sense of some of the contributions to this collection that Firat mentioned that just came out Like in Plastic. And this is a collection that I started working on kind of like 2017, when the, in the U.S., at least we were having lots and lots of public discussion about banning plastic bags and straws. And though these very small items that you see around you as as waste, as things, you know, bags cut in trees and so on and became a kind of target of attention. I actually would be really interested to know why at that moment, these long standing issues with those two particular items have really kicked in. But whatever the reason, there was a dramatic rise in interest in the questions relating to waste, plastic waste and consumption or overconsumption. And I really wanted to see if there were ways to anchor those concerns with consumption in a broader economy of extraction and production of these of these synthetic polymers. So in other words, could we could we attach, the visible parts of everyday life that take the form of, you know, single use, cheap, often kind of colorful and supposedly super hygienic plastics to the dirty economy, much more widespread, underground and at a distance from the everyday lives of most American consumers. So that was the kind of question that I started with. And then I I did, of course, a group of the smartest people that I could think of. I am on this on this topic and got great, great and interesting essays that had to do with the ways that plastic is reckoned with in contemporary sculpture, in comics, in eco poetry, in the realist novel, in science fiction in a little bit. I have a piece on film and a chapter on on vinyl and the LP and how music culture kind of is dependent on a plastic substructure. And one of the things that emerged from this group of essays that kind of surprised me. I guess I should show you the cover of the Table of Contents for my book. Here I am. One of the things that really surprised me was how many of the essays that people were writing really hinged on the question of the human body, from the organs of perception, to the interior, to the life cycle, from birth to death and and a kind of unearthly afterlives, to use Cajetan’s word. And so many, so many of these things that people were writing about kind of touched on this question of whether we have the same human body in an environment that’s saturated by plastics. Definitely the people attending to these questions that I thought would be everybody’s question, which is, how is plastic the face of the petro economy? But I was really interested in this other in this other theme in the sensorium and the massive anxieties about the transformations to the human body that occur when the petro economy kind of takes this form in our everyday lives. And I guess just as a parenthesis, I want to say that I’m well aware that only about nine percent of the oil and natural gas, extractions produce plastics are used to produce plastics. But there’s a lot of interest. There’s been a lot of interest in forecasting whether those numbers will change. In the US mots of our plastic comes from natural gas. But I think that varies in different parts of the world. But everywhere around the world, the predictions are that there’s going to be a massive in continuing escalation of the amount of plastic produced to the end. If projections about shifting towards renewable energy sources for things like heating and transportation continue, that means that the portion of fossil fuels that are used to produce plastics is is highly likely to expand some. I read an article earlier that was in Forbes magazine predicting that as much as 45 percent of fossil fuel production will be used to produce plastics by 2040. So these projections you never really know, but I think the general trend of an increasing portion of the petro economy on taking the shape of plastics is is a good take away there. So let me just give you a little flavor of what the what the contributors did for this, for this collection. And I’ve chosen one from each from each piece. So Jane Kuenz from University of Southern Maine wrote a terrific piece about the Body Worlds exhibit. You know, more than 50 million people have seen this exhibit. It’s traveled around the world, and it’s comprised of these actual human bodies that were. They’re donated or scavenged for these exhibits and then preserved using this special process that the kind of main force between the exhibit Gunther von Hagens refers to as plastination, essentially injecting existing organs and musculature and so on with polymers that fix the body in these in these various poses. You know, in principle, according to the organizers of these exhibits, they’re supposed to be educational and kind of teach you about the glory and the beauty of the interior of the human body and promote healthy practices. Because, like they’ll show you lungs darkened by smoke and compare those to, the healthy lungs. So but, you’re not looking at a healthy human body, you’re looking at a plastic version of a human body. And there is something very unearthly about this way of preserving and ripping off the skin to create the spectacle of a body that is has outlasted, its subject in various ways. And Jane’s essay beautifully unpacks the centrality of plastic to this to this medicalized understanding of bodies, as well as a culture of spectacle on which in which it relies. And it’s, I think, just fascinating. I’m in the second section that’s more to do with with petro capitalisms. Chris Breu has a really interesting essay about Richard Powers’s novel Gain and the relationship between cancer clusters and illness, and that kind of corporate production of oil derived pesticides and cleaning products and so on. And he develops, Breu develops this interesting concept of the petrochemical unconscious. Kind of riffing off of other versions of the unconscious, especially Fredric Jameson’s Political Unconscious. And what he’s interested in is, again, that that relationship between what we can see and immediately experience in this case, the experience of illness and the underlying economy and organization of our material life that’s allows that experience to emerge. So petro petrochemicals and their corporate use and circulation and sort of seepage into our everyday environments is the dynamic that brew and articulates. And he has an interesting way of of, if I may say, refining the concept of. Refining the concept of the unconscious to to suggest that it’s a version of like the non-conscious. It’s not that we can’t be aware of these elements of our life, it’s that we actively repress them in order to sustain something like unendurable private life. And I think that’s a really interesting dynamic I’d love to talk more about. And so from after death to illness, we move in in Margaret Ronda’s interesting essay on Eco-poetics into Birth. She has a beautiful reading of Craig Santos Peres’s The Age of Plastic, a poem in which the poet is meditating on his daughter’s birth and the presence of, plastic medical care equipment right there. From the very first seconds of her life, she’s wrapped in plastic and touched in someone. These are her first sensory experiences, outside of the womb. And I think that’s a that’s a really chilling kind of idea. And he’s both excited by and disturbed by the role of plastics in the birth in the birth process and kind of confronts the the the tenderness of the newborn’s skin with this kind of solidity and artificiality of the medical equipment. And then Adam Dickinson’s, Anatomic which she also writes about is involved involves a kind of poetic reflection on these endocrinological experiments or reckonings that records that that the poet does where he’s looking and basically at the and recording the traces of different kinds of plastic byproducts in his own, in his own body, bodily fluids. You know, the whole range of them. So there’s a kind of gothic element that has to do with this interior circulation of these plastic plastic elements. So here we really see that deep anxiety about the petrochemical presence. In human life, from its earliest moments in through adulthood and finally, the the last section of the of the book is about, is there such thing as a post plastic future? You know, if let’s say that every single ban on plastic was 100 percent effective and people complied with it entirely, we stopped producing plastics. We’re still living with, all of the tons and tons of plastic that’s already been produced and that’s clogs up the oceans and, circulates in our in our water, in our skin and our food systems and so on. You know what, what are these futures look like where you have these remainders? And Lisa Swanstrom has a lovely essay where she’s interested in thinking about the role that plastic has played just in shaping visions of the future at all, and then kind of turns that into questions about these, these newer or more recent petrochemical anxieties. So she starts with what she calls proto plastic imaginaries in H.G. Wells and a bunch of other writers who envision the their own kind of mock plastics. You know that and reckon with the strange capacities that this malleable, colorful, light, eerily lightweight and so on product has. And then I think through different kinds of worlds where that these essentially alchemical and magical substances can be produced through a number of different energy systems. So they’re kind of excited by in this early 20th century kind of utopian sensibility the the thrills of the benefits of plastic as the base of the petro-economy. And then she shifts to some contemporary stories where the and the blobby, amorphous shapes and malleable structures of of plastics take on a much more menacing turn. And she’s especially interested in faces in the way that there’s kind of masking of the human face that that emerges as an interesting theme. There are so the post plastic future is still one that we’re looking through. And in her essay, and some of the others as well that deal with the future kind of ask us to think about whether it’s even feasible to imagine a post plastic future because of the enormous number of years, centuries, millennia that it takes time to degrade the plastic that’s already been created. There may in fact, only be a continuity, of of plastics. Again, even if we banned them immediately switched 100 percent to other kinds of energy systems or completely shifted over to bioplastics made from corn or whatever else. So I guess the big takeaway from the collection as a whole, which moves and all kinds of other directions in addition to those that I’ve outlined, is that I think it might be a good idea for environmental humanities to maybe let go of a figure that certainly has been really important in American literary history, which is that figure of Leo Marx’s, Machine in the Garden, where it’s the disruption of the the train into the forest. That is that is the kind of signal for the for the problem, that we’re facing. You know, the train, of course, is coal in its big iron and it’s industrialism. And all those are, of course, ongoing crucial issues, as is the forest and deforestation. But so many of the problems that we are facing, but not yet fully able to picture to ourselves, I think relates to this plastic wrapped body, which I guess I would suggest is as good as a figure, as useful a figure, as compelling a figure as the machine in the garden and maybe even more specifically like plastic wrapped meat. You know that earthly experience of peeling back the plastic so that you can extract your food from it and do whatever it is, you’re going to do, chop it and cook it and put it inside your own body. That, I think is a kind of nutshell figure for the face of environmental problems that we’re facing that we experience today. It’s it’s eerie, it’s common. It’s anxiety producing. It shifts us away from something like the sublimity of the machine in the garden towards what Sianne Ngai calls, the stuplimity and the esthetic of repetition, almost tedium and eerie avant-gardeness, at the same time. And I think so. I guess that’s the takeaway that I have is that the plastic wrapped meat as a figure for our environmental condition can anchor us in the petro-economy and release a bunch of new esthetic projects that allow us to mediate on our environment. You know, in a way that wakes up our senses and wakes up our our ethical and political imaginaries. Thanks
ORUC [00:38:35]: Thank you, Caren. This is really fascinating, and I think what I hear in the first two present, the opening remarks it is a common term is corporeal entanglements, but will have further discussions about that. Now finally, Anne who will close out the first round of the panel, please.
ANNE PASEK [00:39:00]: Right. Hi, everyone. I’m going to try and be quick, so we have lots of time for your discussion. Yeah, I will get my slides in order. Yeah. So I, come to this question through a slightly different trajectory and that I am a cultural studies, media studies kind of scholar who’s really interested in climate politics. So before I came to care about oil, my my like commitment was always to like it was per million CO2. And my book project is all about the tricky problems of making carbon legible and like culturally meaningful to different audiences. When, like the materiality of carbon is a, is a fraught endeavor because it’s constantly moving through different forms of material, one of which is petrol carbons. Other forms include like CO2. Our bodies themselves, rocks, right? And so it’s it’s a sort of tricky thing to to track and act on politically and therefore a really intriguing problem to me. And so I found myself in Edmonton, Alberta, which was also my hometown doing a postdoc with the Petro Cultures Group, and I was sort of shocked to see this dissonance between my scholarly work, which was just very much all about, the media of accounting or of climate denialism and the everyday experiences of being around in the city, which which had absolutely nothing to say about carbon and where I had tons and tons of say about oil. So I found myself, coming back to this, the substance and the world that it makes. But but with less of an aim to write a book about it or an academic article, and more so to just sort of find a way to express and share some feelings, right. More more so then some thoughts. So for those who don’t know, Edmonton, Alberta is sort of the administrative capital of the province of Alberta, but also the large oil or tar sands development that happens in the north of the province. And the sort of state revenues from oil dictate the state revenues of the province. And I have a very, very pronounced thumbprint on the politics therein. But I also thought that it was just really pronounced presence in the city that I was being reintroduced to and wanted to reflect on. Right. So that I think just to give a shout out to the podcast. Santiago Acosta makes this point that oil has multiple ontologies, right. That it’s both a substance and a abstract financial substance, right. A commodity that gets traded, and that this sort of fraught dual nature of it can surface in different art forms can surface in different state practices. And I guess my observation was like, it’s very much true of affected infrastructure. So my my aims are modest. I wanted to produce something that would be a reflection about Edmonton’s petro-cultures that would circulate in Edmonton and that people who had the same experiences that I was having would know that we shared this condition that we could sort of go deep into everyday life and sort of connect over the weirdness of certain parts of the town, parts that I think are true of many, many cities in the global north. Maybe the global south to a degree, but but which just popped out in this very oily city. So I, during the pandemic started making some drawings, writing some text. Compiled it altogether into magazine called everyday oil. And a part of the reason why I was drawing was just to sort of linger really long in place. Think about what it means that like the the heart of the downtown, the Lake Club District has like a five to six lane highway down the middle of it, and that people are unfazed by by this huge sort of sensory disruption in the middle of urban life that there are strange, mysterious pipelines crossing through ravines that we don’t totally know what the substance are. But but were really captivating to me as a child, right. There’s a really lively culture of resistance and an occupation in relation to ongoing forms of violence, extraction and statecraft that are trying to build pipelines out of Edmonton into the states where that oil can be brought to market. And so I would find myself with my climate activist friends occupying malls and banks and and just sort of. In the strange experience of making everyday office workers uncomfortable, but not like unmanageable also and just sort of the overlapping worldviews and affects and emotional management strategies in that moment were were I think an intriguing one to capture. It’s also the case that most of the city’s parks are buried on top of gas pipelines just because this is sort of uninsurable land that can be sort of given over to public benefit as a kind of no cost afterthought. And so being environmental also means living on top of oil infrastructure. Many many people who’ve made out extremely well in the oil industry and who have rather expensive and oil themed country clubs in which a teenager can linger. And, the attempts to sort of find exit trajectories from oil finance to divest my own like very, very modest post-doctoral savings in my credit union, were were not only frustrated but but happens like a block away from the Legislature. And so the overall experience was just of everyday life and infrastructure being as was mentioned earlier, kind of interestingly, durable obstacle to imagining other worlds. And I wanted to just capture that and share that. And because I’m a cultural city scholar, I’m really interested in questions of circulation. So I I kind of have like a suspicion of formal art world institutions. I think, as Victor Ehikhamenor mentioned in the podcast, right, like he can show his art abroad, but to show it in Nigeria would be to not come too much because there is a kind of way in which folks are closed off to an arts based critique. I think that’s true to a large degree in Edmonton as well. So my my aim here esthetically was to use images to come up with a sort of affective experience, but also use that aesthetics as a lure. So I produced like hundreds of copies of this scene and dropped it off in like free libraries all around town, where people will read books or read pieces of art for folks to come and find. And then I also did what I’ve been calling a reverse snowball sample. So I have a little brother who works in the gas industry, and I gave him a bunch of copies to divide to his friends and then told them to give out further copies that way. So I’m interested in trying to think about modes of thinking and sharing and circulating ideas. These reflections, right, to sort of build up a common recognition that we all have these weird moments of encounter with oil infrastructures, but that, academic texts and art institutions may not always be the best way to do it. So it’s been an experiment and an interesting one at that. It’s been published in the journal Heliotrope, so it has the sort of afterlife circulating as an academic research creation product. But the the more immediate goal was just to get this out into the world and see what happens. And then I’ll just quickly add that this is a shifting energy gears, right. But the sort of spirit of practice space inquiry has lived on in my participation in a project called Solar Protocol. So with a couple of collaborators joined a network of of a very, very micro solar internet servers, which are sort of networked across the world and that we’ve published is in on what it might mean make solar-powered media, why you might want to do so. And what could come of it? And it is involved, building some technical skills, but also having a practice where every day I check to make sure my battery is appropriately charged and that I have a kind of interesting, effective attachment to my little solar system. Based on this practice of care, which folks on the critical make community have talked a lot about. And I’m sort of interested in also thinking about this sort of making practice sharing that rather than just just the esthetics, could be an interesting pathway forward. So there is much to say about lower powered internet stuff and the esthetics that obtains to like low power intermittent energy systems as as an interesting way of thinking forward to a future that might look a little more retro than chrome. And also this larger aspirations in the project to build up a global network of solar powered servers because there’s always sun somewhere. So if we can build our technology, based around those logics of intermittency, but also constancy, we might end up somewhere really interesting. But I will I will not dig too deep into that and I will instead. Excited to hear your questions and thoughts.
ORUC [00:48:55]: Thank you so much to all of our speakers for those really stimulating opening remarks. Now we are going to move into the moderated discussion and I am handing over things to my colleague Vicky.
VICTORIA GOOGASIAN [00:49:11]: Yeah, thanks Firat, and thanks to all of you for the comments so far. As Firat mentioned way back at the beginning, I’m going to direct the questions to each of you in turn to sort of take a first stab at. But I’m hoping that you’ll take the opportunity to respond to each other as well, because as has already become clear, these are themes that that really unite all of your work. So I’ll go ahead and start with with Cajetan, because your work as the title of your recent book suggests gives us this really useful theorization of eco-media. And you say or you argue that that eco-media forms approach the lived experience of energy by, “encouraging the cultivation of an ecological ethics that entails alertness to others into the world.” And the various instances of eco media that you discuss in your work, some of which you also sort of highlighted for us already this evening. These are these are instances that illustrate the representational capacity of the visual and media forms for laying bare the commodifying logic of oil extraction and its perversities, specifically in the Niger Delta. But we wanted to ask you if you can speak a little bit about the limits of that representational capacity. Are there moments where representation fails? And this, I mean, this is also, I think, following up a little bit on that on the tail end of Anne’s comments as well about the obstacles that this durable infrastructure of oil presents, even for cultural forms as well.
IHEKA [00:50:50]: Right. Yeah. Thank you so much for that, Vicky. As Anne was concluding, she talked about distributing this in a beautiful zine to broader colleagues, I was just thinking why it’s so interesting to go back and bring these guys together and have a conversation about what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking see how that’s…to what extend that interacts with Anne’s intention. But that’s by the way. One of the things that I think about in terms of representational limits, last night as I was listening to the podcast with Victor, he was talking about the image with Oloibiri: the tub with the water in his installation. He was talking beautifully about the way that there’s Oloibiri in water and then the oil, the oil spilling into that. And how it took 48 hours for oil to obliterate the water, but also the image — the cancelation –if you want to use that…the disappearance of Oloibiri, which is this community in Nigeria, where oil was first discovered in 1950s. So that for me, I think it becomes a paradigmatic case of the limits of representation, because what do we see when we find, when we encounter the image of when oil has saturated the water and obliterated Oloibiri? Do we have a complete image if we see it earlier on, when Oloibiri and oil is still intact in that water? So for me, representation, it’s really in this moment when the temporality of artistic production becomes unable to hold at once the multiple significations that is made possible with the oil…sorry, the water and Oloibiri intact. And then what happens 48 hours later when oil has overtaken everything. Especially now when this image circulates on the internet. When I see the image with Oloibiri intact, I don’t know what else has happened. I don’t know the kind of obliteration that has happened that would happen if I let oil drip into that water gradually. So I think we find that there’s a problem of temporality there that is compounded by circulation; the fact that we’re not all live witnesses in Indonesia when this was happening, or in Poland, where the work was recreated. So the problem of circulation that is banned with temporality, I think, is one of the problems of oil. The other thing about representation,…the other thing about representational image, and I talk a little bit about this in my new book, is the way in which sometimes the problem of…part of the problem of oil is the way that the kind of images it invites the image of spectacle that it invites I think oftentimes reduces or undermines the problems that we want to highlight in the first place. There’s a sense some of the images I work with, they’re images that have been aestheticized. They have become aestheticized in interesting, fascinating ways. And they run the risk of losing a critical edge, the critical edge that you hope that viewers will bring to such a work. So the problem of aestheticization, the problem of temporality, but also the ways that the problem of contextualization, I thought, the ways that these works themselves, they’re not in themselves self-sufficient. If we think of them as artistic projects fine, we can all bring our interpretations to them, and that’s fine. But when we think of them within the science of the kind of activist-political work we’ve been talking about this morning, the kind of meaning it creates becomes very important. There are moments when those meanings are not reached in some fashion, especially when we’re dealing with works from different parts of the world. There’s the risk of us absorbing those works also, instead of dealing with their singularity, embracing them within our culture. There is a sense in which they become diluted, they become immersed, just as oil itself and lose that texture. So, yeah, I will stop there. I’m curious to hear what Caren and Anne have to add to that. Yeah, I think I’ll give you both the opportunity to respond to any of those those I think you’ve given us now three limits of representation that ego media faces temporality, aestheticization, and contextualization.
IRR [00:56:50]: I think that’s such an important question, and certainly there’s an already existing discussion about the limits of of “mimesis.” You know, in environmental writing generally, like does reading a description of a beautiful landscape make you appreciate that landscape in some kind of a deep way that would supplement or even replace kind of immersion in that in that landscape. So that kind of problem about mimesis is replicated in these issues about oil economies and sort of toxic environments kind of more generally does a description, of a situation of toxicity or of horrific mining practice or fracking or something like that. You know, function on its own to interpret itself as Cajetan was just saying, like, is it self-evident. Etc. So I had to work with that. And then we have these kind of familiar problems about protest literature generally and what happens to that with the kind of ideological redundancies that are built in, to certain kinds of protest literature where it’s feels too closed not just to function as art, but to function in a very politically enlivening and energizing way that’s presumably central to the project in the first place. So I think those are crucial questions raised with particular urgency on this topic, and I guess I’ve been interested in so many other people have in these different kinds of ironic, skeptical, horror driven, kind of cheeseball humor, dark humor, kind of driven projects to see if they could produce some, some detours or some ways, some unpredictable and oblique points of entry into this whole situation. And I think in the plastics stuff that I’ve been looking at, they’re interested in, horror a lot. And I think as an alternative to elegy, as the as the kind of presumably politically charged esthetic. The difficulty, though, is I think more generally and there’s interesting things can happen there. But I think the general difficulty for for petro-esthetics is that we can picture if you, the infrastructure, the refinery, the pipeline, the gas station or whatever. But the substance itself is difficult, to envision, you know, maybe sometimes you have like the sheen on a on a black surface, doesn’t that cover image for Richard Powers gains that I showed you a few minutes ago. But like capital, oil is difficult to see. You see its effects and you see the commodities produced from it, the kind of intentionally produced commercialized versions. You see the mediations, but not the substance in circulation itself. And the flip side, so that’s for the text. The problem with representing toxicities relating to, petro-economies has that kind of familiar problem of kind of critiques of capitalism, literature, critics of capitalism or art, some critique of capitalism, but also on the utopian end. If the utopia for. But many people working on on energy issues is keep it in the ground, right. Then you’re your most utopian image is either the sun which is burned your eyeballs on or, like the undisturbed ground. Right. So again, you’re not seeing it, by definition, it reminds me and then I’ll stop, at that. You know, the effect that Antonioni gives in and Blow Up right. Where at the end of the film, there’s this famous scene where he’s like showing it’s an imaginary tennis match and the camera’s just kind of moving back and forth. But there’s no ball. You’re actually just looking at the court. But the preceding narrative has trained you to be interested in the drama of just looking at that empty court. Right. I think we need a similarly inventive kind of esthetics that will allow us to see an undisturbed landscape as one where there is a drama, and an interest. a projects underway and the project is keep it in the ground. And I don’t know what you call that kind of esthetic and a lot of people don’t like blow up. So it wouldn’t be exactly that. But or, it’s that’s a moment of the kind of post-modernist movement. But I think that’s that’s sort of a a bookmark for esthetic challenges that that we face for envisioning the utopian alternatives to a kind of horrific toxicity which were maybe more at ease with and partly. Yeah.
PASEK [01:02:32]: I won’t add too much on this because I think so much wonderful things have been said and I don’t want to prevent further questions from being asked. I guess I’ll just sort of pose an open question, which is that in the environmental humanities, right, we often look to artists to to do this esthetic work for us. I’m not sure that is a convincing historical argument, right. It seems like the way these questions get determined is what social movements make of esthetics and the sort of political energy they invest in them and the way that they make them circulate. And I think that we we can sort of see, in my backyard if that were right, like questions over the oil sands versus the tar sand and the sort of fraught questions of like the esthetic spectacle versus the slow violence that have come in that context, it doesn’t seem like there really is a esthetic that can do it all. And so it does seem like it’s a kind of war of position question where you’re trying to find contextually responsive, collectively inspiring answers to partial questions that help you move forward one step of the way.
GOOGASIAN [01:03:47]: I think maybe I’ll I’ll seize that opportunity that you’ve given me to actually direct a question that you, Anne, about your your recent work on the effective dimensions of energy and in particular, how these dimensions are being activated and how these contested narratives of of carbon. And and also maybe to kind of bring us back to this word, this key word that Firat already highlighted for us, which is transcorporeality is I think you argue that we have to attend to the transcorporeality of carbon in order to just sort of build these new structures of feeling toward the carbon cycle. And in your recent essay in Environmental Humanities, which I think Trish already linked in the chat. If anyone’s interested, you argue, I think pretty convincingly that climate denialists have already recognized and made use of this embodied transcorporealogic albeit in this kind of dishearteningly familiar appeal to racial and gendered stories about whose bodily experience gets to count. So we might, I think your comments are already pointing us in this direction. We might want to kind of view the realities of climate changes as a kind of settled fact and turned to artists and artists and cultural practitioners to sort of convey that fact to people. But you’re pointing out to us that the carbon cycle is already at the center of these multiple contested narratives. So I’m just wondering if you want to say anything more about this, about contesting the story of carbon. What are the…what new openings do we see when we combine effective and narrative work with our structural critique?
PASEK [01:05:34]: Yeah, yeah. So to sort of give a little more context about that article. So the article, which is also going to be a book chapter, is about how this one particular strain of climate denialism, I call them “carbon-vitalists,” argue that because we exhale CO2 out of our bodies and our bodies are in part made of carbon, as are the bodies of plants and animals and the whole ecosystem. And plants like carbondioxide. Carbondioxide is good and that we should therefore burn as much oil as possible to enrich the atmosphere with carbondioxide to serve the cause of life in cosmic terms, right. And it’s an argument that borrows from a lot of like ecosystem connection interdependence of esthetics, as well as really embodied ways of knowing the world. In this case, knowing it quite incorrectly right. And the bodies that are sort of centered in these arguments are all almost exclusively white men and their families. And the argument brought to bear is that, you know, if you call industrial pollution, pollution carbondioxide, then you’re sort of saying that our bodies are polluting and that really violates some deeply held racial scripts, and we will therefore reject your proposition. And I think it’s worthwhile to go to these uncomfortable case studies, where we see a lot of the tools of feminist anti-racist, science studies, or epistemologies or esthetics more broadly being picked up and used by our enemies because it reminds us that our tools aren’t like a priori a political good right. There are ways of appealing to embodied knowledge that are quite harmful and racist and have succeeded in delaying climate action in really substantive federal scales. But so that’s that’s the bad news. The good news to me, though, is that you can kind of look at how these esthetics are being mobilized and like, cry theft, right. And that there’s something encouraging about the fact that these extremely politically reactionary white guys do want to have a caring relationship for ecosystem, right. And they do want to to recognize that bodies can produce knowledge and that we should, you know, legitimate that. And so the sort of opening that to me suggests is that the goal is to kind of look through the stream of climate denialism, give a hard no to all of the racist, sexist stuff at its core. but just sort of see lingering in the chaff there are parts that could be mobilized to some other political project, right. Like, I think the way forward here is to to sort of demobilize these movements and redirect those energies towards other projects that fulfill similar affective needs. So I’m interested in thinking about what a future of carbon removal might look like. If we are offering scripts and like actual jobs, like forms of action, political and economic that people can take that do position them in that caring role, whether that is, getting oil workers to work on carbon removal pipelines or getting rural folks to do soil sequestration for for carbondioxide, right. It seems like they’re they’re in in like the darkest of of grim political toxins. We can see these sort of ways through and they’re not guaranteed, right. I think that how one picks up that potential is going to look very different in many different contexts and probably won’t succeed in every case. But it may be useful to to include that in the portfolio of climate politics because we don’t want a world where we are just sort of deepening our commitment and engagement with our in groups. Well, allowing those who have been politically polarized to continue to be more intensely against us. So I think that’s kind of a one one possible outcome of combining esthetic, affective and structural analytics and that you can sort of see these new tactical directions for climate strategy.
GOOGASIAN [01:10:10]: Yeah, that’s it’s really fascinating, I was sort of blown away by the idea that the logic of transcorporeality and embodied aspect is something that sort of unites voices from across the political spectrum in this context. I guess I’ll give the opportunity to our other two panelists or respond before I redirect us again here.
IRR [01:10:40]: I don’t know if people in this conversation have been reading Michael Marder’s work on plants, plant being. But if I could see it being super useful in that kind of conversation, he has some lovely concepts about the deep generosity of plants being, I mean, sometimes he uses the phrase vegetal-communism to think about this. You know where he’s…these are my leaves, you know, here. You know, if you think about plant being as you know it, sure, it absorbs carbon, but it’s also, you know, releasing endlessly releasing exactly what we need to do to breathe. And there’s…he’s got a way of thinking about plants, not just as passive receptacles or, you know, things that are being starved or whatever, which seems to be the vision of kind of the climate denialists that are the carbon-vitalists is in some sense. But you know, you’d only have to take introductory biology to understand, the cycle of that’s involved there. And then to think deeply with plant being as an act of release is I think, would be an interesting way to build knowledge rather than just shut down, which is surely if we’re not skilled sketch artists or, you know, aren’t engaged directly in art practice, then certainly producing knowledge and producing pedagogy and is a skill set that the.. we cultivate in academia, among ourselves and with our students and just being able to kind of seize seize the pedagogy, the pedagogical prospect, of a conversation like that, whether it be at a holiday or, you know, at a town meeting or whatever, it’s important.
IHEKA [01:12:44]: Yeah. Very quickly. I just…I’m really fascinated by this, by the idea of really contesting, the logic of carbon and producing knowledge around it. What I wanted to have to do that…to the amazing comments that have already been made is to think about, when we think about transcorporeality what kind of bodies are we involving in this connection? I think this becomes especially important in know when we think about, the global climate movement and the kind of voices and bodies that get emphasized, I think that’s crucial. I’m thinking about, I think in the pandemic when, you know, when there was…I think it was at Davos, when the youth…there were just youth climate activists, you know, there was a photo of them. And then this Ugandan young activist Vanessa Nakate was cropped out of the photo that The Associated Press had eventually published. You know, that’s you know, that’s I think, you know, we’re finding in that particular moment, this example, you know, there’s you know, the connection being made is these young people at that moment. The kind of knowledge mixing that would produce in a new epistemology is being undercut, undermined, when certain voices or certain images are removed from the conversation. So I think this has to be part of this knowledge building. Making sure that the future, the future of global climate activism movements to make sure that voices… It’s not just African voices, that is indigenous voices, but those other voices have a place and not just us talking about their worldview, their ways of seeing the world. That can be part of this new narratives, of new stories, new politics, new knowledge of carbon that is being produced just wanted to add that real quick.
GOOGASIAN [01:14:51]: Yeah, thank you all for those comments. I think I’ll just go ahead and ask one more moderated question because I know we want to save some time for the questions we’ve got in the chat as well. But I thought maybe I could direct a final question to Caren to help us think about furturity a little bit. Since this term afterlives has has also been sort of circulating through your comments, and it was definitely something that I noticed that connected a number of the essays and life in plastic, which is plasticity, is almost kind of paradoxical construction of futurity. Plasticity is this kind of toxic form, on the one hand, that’s threatening the future of life on the planet. And on the other hand, it’s a metaphor for survival. The thing that allows your body to survive after death and these amazing and terrifying exhibits in the Body Worlds exhibition. And this is a theme that also emerges particularly strongly in Margaret Ronda’s work on an eco-products as well. And in the introduction, you write about the plastic utopianism of the 20th century thinkers such as Sergei Eisenstein and Roland Barthe. And then you point out that this is a feeling that that has kind of faded in the ecological crises of of our own century. So I thought I would just ask if you could speak about how plastic or petrochemicals more generally shape our ability to imagine future worlds?
IRR [01:16:31]: Sure, and well definitely waste is always a question about the future, whether it be a spill, an oil spill or, you know, the Great Pacific garbage patch and all that stuff because it’s about what’s persisting, you know, what’s ineradicable or what’s going to, force us to envision a really long term timescale of biodegradableness or non-biodegradableness. So there are futures of that sort that are extrapolations or continuations or durations in some sense. But there’s but that that utopian futurity that you mentioned it a minute ago is, I think, well, it’s not central to the way that we necessarily think about plastic right now. It’s still present. And I think the key to that utopian aspect of of plastics and the many other forms of kind of commodity production in particular that are associated with, the 20th century boom in the economy. I’m trying to think of, trying to remember Ernest Mendel’s phrase. But anyway, like the economy is released by the combustion engine, essentially pre-computer economies. And the utopianism there has to do with, Wow, look what we can make. We can make new textures, new colors, new experiences in the world, it’s this it’s a kind of a radically and arrogantly humanist utopianism, associated with those those things. And while it was like the sorcerer’s apprentice kind of went crazy and got out of hand. And it is nonetheless, I think, something that you can read as a positive balance as well. Because if you can invent and make and circulate, throughout the world in a period of 50 years, is this entirely new substance that changes the the geologic record that introduces, plastiglomerates where there were none before then you can do other things as well. Right. There is a kind of capacity, human capacity to invent, that’s that and that plastic is an effective and a sign of. And I think there are ways to kind of read that utopianism, which is kind of out of fashion, I guess I would say into that or out of that substance as well and can recall the the force of our of our own technical abilities and so on. And just like, there’s a utopian face, I think, to like the pandemic, although of course, it brought us lots of new plastic waste in the form of masks and gloves, etc. But part of the utopian thesis you realize like, Oh yeah, all of these systems can change. Some of them, like on a dime, you can change transport systems. You can change the principles of public that govern public life. You can change the ways that you encounter each other or that you organize your leisure or that you organize your work experience and so on. Those things are not written in stone. The the well known difficulties of getting, massive numbers of people to cooperate and something that a minority feels is crucial. You know, those difficulties can be overcome. And so there’s a we just did it, you know. And, people complain and blah blah blah. It’s not without strife, but there’s a utopian aspect to our capacity to, alter the world. There’s a utopian aspect to anthropogenic changes in that sense. So I think that’s that’s something also that plastic kind of contains as as an option is a kind of knowledge about about malleability, the continuing malleability of social practice on a global scale. So I guess I would want to think about that include that repertoire of ideas in any conversation about futurity.
GOOGASIAN [01:21:11]: Yeah, I think it’s something that unites your comments about utopianism, here are some of Anne’s comments earlier is this idea that maybe in some ways our utopian thinking about energy is a bit retro, and that might not be a totally bad thing in the long run.
IRR [01:21:30]: Well, you have combined an uneven pieces of development in energy systems, and you need to be able to layer them all on top of each other. So as you slowly disengage from, from coal, for instance, you shift in another registers. Sometimes you have a rapid development, you leap ahead, sometimes not enough. I don’t know if other people. Sorry, I’ll say this one thing. I don’t know if other people have followed this story about conversions of some of the old British coal mines that have been out of use since the 80s into geothermal energy production sites, I just think that’s what a cool example of a infrastructure conversion project of green infrastructure because infrastructure can just like sit around and be ruins, but can also be converted and transformed in a way that’s not just like the depressing cover up, like making a park out of a pipeline, passageway. But but you can actually use…flip the way that you think about what that piece of infrastructure is and the capacity that it contains in these interesting ways. So I think they’re like functional utopian conversions also.
IHEKA [01:22:49]: Yeah, so very quickly, I wanted to say that one of the things about futurity is the ability to lead potential for creativity and imagination. But it’s also useful to be in mind that the future is unknowable, really. I’m thinking about the examples in the 20th century and the utopianism about plastics and how that has turned out today. So I think we want to leave room for contingency aware that we would never really know, or would never fully know what the future would look like. But again, that is not an excuse not to try, but it’s important for us to keep that in view to imagine our ecological future.
GOOGASIAN [01:23:44]: All right, well, since we only have a few minutes left in our in our scheduled time here, I think let’s all go ahead and hand it over to my colleague Trish, who’ll share with us some of the questions from our webinar audience here.
TRISH KAHLE [01:24:01]: And thank you so much, and thanks to everyone for a really fascinating conversation. In some ways, you know, we sort of pre-staged Peter Martin’s question here in the comments about the future. And so since we’ve just discussed that a bit, I’m going to move on and we have two other sets of questions. And so one I think relates to sort of the metaphors that we’re using to thinking about the relationship between oil and plastics. And that’s about sort of not just sort of being wrapped around the body, but also seeping into the body, right, bringing back particular kinds of toxicity. And so here, there’s a question here about the violence of oil and you could whether we could discuss the direct localized health implications of oil extraction. And similarly, right sort of more broadly thinking about not just oil in the context of the Niger Delta, but also thinking about petrochemicals and other forms of seepage from from plastics and energy infrastructure that have entered our bodies in particular ways. And so since I know that Cajetan has to leave first because he very generously came before teaching, I’ll sort of asking to start us off and then hopefully we’ll have time to also address Bob’s question in the chat as well.
IHEKA [01:25:25]: Yeah, thank you so much for that. In the Niger Delta, which is the region where I’ve worked, I think they have different kind of projects imagined to think about the impact of oil. You know, there is a project Curse of the Black Gold by Michael Watt and Ed Kashi, it is a multimedia project. And part of it include images of people that have been burnt from fires, from fire evolving from oil spill in Niger Delta. So you, you have you have that. There are some that some oral projects to the Niger Delta, talking about the impact on of oil on women, on fertility, or example, on fertility, on cancer. But part of the challenge of such projects is also that this the oil company and their promoters they find a way of trying to sow doubt, trying to ask cause I’ve really proven that this is a direct cause that oil is the direct cause of this. There are problems in Niger environment that’s responsible for some of these problems. Yes. So yes, the short answer is yes. You know that different forms of projects in different genres trying to capture. But there is a problem of representation too, for the women, for the people suffering from cancer. You know, we it takes time to detect in places like Niger Delta and Nigeria more broadly and even when they do, until, towards a terminal stage. It’s not really visible on the body. So that’s a question of problem of representation we’re talking about earlier becomes an issue. But there weren’t fire the victims are fire born, and that’s really that’s the most dominant trope of representation of oil, oil issues in the Niger Delta.
KAHLE [01:27:33]: And I think this question was also directed at you, Caren, as well as thinking about petrochemicals and plastics.
IRR [01:27:41]: Sure. Well, I guess I was sort of rolling around in my mind and a few examples of narratives because I’m a literature person, that’s mostly what I have in my mind. Although there’s interesting film things too that are the to follow through on the toxicities, which it seems to me there’s all kinds of interesting toxicity narratives. I think the question partly had to do with DDT in particular, which is famously the subject of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring touched, a crucial touchstone text for any account of American environmental writing and much discussed and kind of thought through. The toxicities, more recent kind of toxicities narratives that I can think of. They don’t all trace back to the petrochemical extraction processes, but they’re interested sort of more in these mediating roles. And for some reason, really blanking on the title of Ruth Ozeki’s novel, the one that’s about potatoes. It’s it’s has a it’s.
GOOGASIAN [01:28:49]: All Over Creation.
IRR [01:28:51]: That’s one. Thank you. Yeah, that would be a good one to consider in this vein again about pesticides. I think about that book every time I peel a potato, especially a burbank potato. They’re all clones, it turns out. So that’s interesting in itself. You know, so there are these kinds of narratives and a few few others that are going to come back to me in a second. I mean, certainly you have your kind of Erin Brockovich type projects as well and so on. So I think there are toxicity narratives that are interested, especially in cancer and cancer clusters, which is, cellular level. Joyce Carol Oates has a book about Love Canal, and that would be interesting there. Building over a waste site, superfund site, building housing complex there. So I think that it’s. There is scholarship about illness and the role of the ill body, Heather Houser’s book on environmental illness is really good on the subject and I think ways in which we have like the the toxic infused human body, not the monstrous one. You know, like there were all of these concerns about kind of nuclear monstrosity monster babies, in the wake of Three Mile Island and so on. But of the, kind of tragically damaged body created by the exposure to toxicities. Todd Haynes’s Safe, the film Safe, would be, is also a good one of relating to the kind of psychological breakdown that comes with constantly envisioning, your own future in intoxification. So there’s there’s lots of great resources to work with. And if that’s the question, there’s interest. Fantastic. I think there’s a lot of take up. What I’m interested in is why the. Why we don’t have a kind of coming together of all of these different micro-level or local toxicities into a big picture account of, their genesis and that’s that seems like it’s been harder to produce. So even if you think about superfund sites like, these state funded federal funded projects to renovate areas that were completely poisoned and become unusable, often through corporate pollution and seepage of oil related and other chemicals that are belong in the Earth. The sites are all separate, they’re all treated as separate entities. And I think what we what we need is a mapping and an interconnectivity of those sites, a kind of narrative that allows them to be pulled together into a common story. So that any project that can do that, I agree, would be really valuable.
KAHLE [01:32:13] So, I am going to give Anne a second to come back in just a second, but I just wanted to note that Cajetan had to leave to go to teach but we’ll go ahead and sort of wrap ourselves up here, but I just want to explain why he suddenly disappeared from the webinar. Anne of course, I sort of had the floor over to you. And then maybe as a final way of wrap up, we’ll come back to Bob Johnson’s question here about sort of threading the needle in particular pieces of works of art or pieces of literature that you can do.
PASEK [01:32:48]: Yeah. So on the subject of toxics, I would venture that you’ll find some interesting and different stuff if you look at the literature and science and technology studies. So books like Fractivism: Corporate Bodies and Chemical Bonds, by Sara Ann Wylie are really great. You could also look at Michelle Murphy’s work and Max Libiron. Well, it seems like there are people thinking across forms of petroleum extraction, processing and their chemical afterlives or “alterlives”, as Murphy says. That that are not only like, very, very doing good work at sort of drawing connections and thinking about what forms of politics and esthetics are helpful in that conjuncture. But also sort of like, helping us maybe get over the the purity shock rate of of how do we have our our reaction where we sort of get get through the fact that, this is a significant shift in in where we mark the boundaries of of clean and dirty or, contaminated and not. And if we are all to some degree and to very importantly, differential degrees, but but to some degree, all contaminated, where then do we begin towards building that better future. And on that note, right, the subject the prompt about like what some interesting pieces of work have been for thinking towards that. I’ll just make the pitch that it’s it’s good to play around with renewable energy technologies and see how they work. And there are tons of projects that are sort of maker projects or related art projects that are interested in sort of thinking about the rhythms and affects and feelings of solar and wind. I’ve talked a bit about the Solar Protocol website. I think it’s lovely. Branch Magazine is a publication that’s put out by, I think, the Mozilla Foundation in part. And they they do the fun thing of they will serve you different esthetics based on the carbon intensity of your local grid. And that’s a changes by the hour. So if you find yourself surfing the internet during peak energy demand time, you will get image descriptions. But if you come back. In my case, in Ontario, during lighter periods where there’s less gas peakers on the grid and it is more nuclear, solar and wind, then I will get full images. And it just seems like there there are ways of sort of joining together esthetics, everyday life and and these cultural idioms to sort of prompt awareness to how energy moves through our worlds, our our global ecosystems and our day to day energy systems, as well as like, what kinds of esthetics might be inappropriate opening for for sort of living more deeply with different kinds of energy forms. And that, again, I keep coming back to esthetics less as a sort of critical tool and more as a sort of activist lure, right. I think it’s a way of bringing people into a project, making them excited to think new thoughts. And it could be in that kind of generative spirit rather than one purely of just like, aesthetic critique that we might embark on a new journey. So I’ll leave it there. Thanks. Thanks all for the rich discussion.
KAHLE [01:36:17]: And I am so sorry that we have to sort of end it here. I do want to if there are any colleagues listening, I really do encourage using the, Making Energy Strange work in class. My students worked with Anne’s work and actually tried to replicate it in their own lives to make energy strange, and it was an incredibly fun and productive exercise. So I just thank you again to and Caren, Anne and Cajetan, as well as my colleagues, my colleagues, Vicky and Firat and our colleagues here at CIRS. And thank you again all for joining us.
- Cajetan Iheka, Naturalizing Africa: Ecological Violence, Agency, and Postcolonial Resistance in African Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2017.
- Cajetan Iheka, African Ecomedia: Network Forms, Planetary Politics. Duke University Press, 2021.
- Cajetan Iheka (ed.), Teaching Postcolonial Environmental Literature and Media. Modern Language Association, 2021.
- Cajetan Iheka (ed.), African Migration Narratives: Politics, Race, and Space. Boydell & Brewer, 2019.
- Caren Irr (ed.), Life in Plastic: Artistic Responses to Petromodernity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2021. (forthcoming)
- Bob Johnson, Mineral Rites: An Archaeology of the Fossil Economy. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.
- Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Cornell University Press, 1982
- Leo Marx, The machine in the garden : technology and the pastoral ideal in America. Oxford University Press, 1964
- Michael Marder, Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. Columbia University Press, 2013.
- Heather Houser, Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction: Environment and Affect, Columbia University Press, 2016
- Sara Ann Wylie, Fractivism: Corporate Bodies and Chemical Bonds, Duke University Press, 2018.
- Anne Pasek. “Carbon Vitalism: Life and the Body in Climate Denial.” Environmental Humanities 13, no. 1 (2021): 1-20.
- Fixing Carbon: Mediating Matter in a Warming World – Anne Pasek (forthcoming)
- Gain: A Novel – by Richard Powers
- Anatomic – by Adam Dickinson
- The Age of Plastic – by Craig Santos
- The First Men in the Moon – by H.G. Wells
- Everyday Oil: Energy Infrastructures and Places That Have Yet to Become Strange – by Anne Pasek
- Silent Spring – by Rachel Carson
- All Over Creation – by Ruth Ozeki
- The Falls – by Joyce Carol Oates
- Branch Magazine
- Solar Protocol
- Blow Up (1966) – by Michelangelo Antonioni
- Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years Of Oil In The Niger Delta – by Michael Watts
- Safe (1995) – by Todd Haynes