“Flickering” reading of energy: presenting new work within the energy humanities at ACLA2024, Montreal

I’m in Montreal for the ACLA2024, where I’ll present some of my current work in progress (15 March 2024). I’m considering ways in which we can see energy at work in literature before the energy crisis (pre-1970s), at times when energy questions were rarely explicitly foregrounded in literary texts. I suggest a “flickering” reading of instances of energy in a comparative literary perspective, and argue that energy flickers tend to be tied in with moments when viable futures (individual or communal) are denied.

My talk continues earlier collaborations with Imre Szeman, during my three-year research project at TIAS, Turku, and builds on the course “Introduction to the Energy Humanities” taught at Tampere University in 2023. It is part of the seminar “Comparative Energetics: Energy Encounters and Beyond”, organized by Jordan Kinder and Reuben Martens. Good to reconnect with Reuben, whom I met while at KU Leuven, and looking forward to meet new people in this fascinating field.

Abstract below:

”Waking at the fumes and furnace-glares”: flickers of petro-modernity

Lieven Ameel

Building on work within the energy humanities that wants to make visible fossil-fueled energy transformations and their repercussions for (literary) culture (Szeman 2017; Wenzel 2019; Yaeger 2011), I propose a ‘flickering reading’ of the fossil-fueled fumes and glares often only visible in passing in the background of the narratives of long modernity. I argue that these flickers tend to occur in instances that emphasize the association between energy sites and the loss of (or threat to), viable futures, individual or communal. I draw on a comparative selection of texts from the early nineteenth century to the late 1960s, including William Blake’s Milton (1808), Stephen Crane’s Maggie (1893), and Philip Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings (1964).

This work is part of larger project that wants to develop the theory and methodologies of the energy humanities in ways that will deepen our understanding of the historical conditions of petro-modernity, and that will help outline the conditions for the necessary transformations ahead.

Image: Sheffield Forgemasters / https://www.themanufacturer.com/articles/sheffield-forgemasters-announces-record-breaking-pour/

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