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Retrofutures and Petrofutures

Retrofutures and Petrofutures

Oil, Scarcity, Limit

(p.331) 17 Retrofutures and Petrofutures
Oil Culture
Gerry Canavan
University of Minnesota Press

This chapter discusses historical efforts to grapple with the inescapable transience of oil. Focusing on a series of twentieth-century science-fiction novels, it charts the development of two interpretive perspectives that continue to inform understandings of petroleum’s end: a techno-utopian belief in the capacity of modern invention to supplant oil with more sophisticated energy systems, and an apocalyptic terror of oil exhaustion as the end point of human history. In particular, it considers how the necessity of oil is put under erasure in much early and mid-twentieth-century science fiction, whereby oil is retrospectively imagined as a quickly discarded transitional technology and we can see oil’s inescapable centrality to liberal capitalism. It also examines various recent manifestations of peak oil from the ecological science fiction of the 1970s through allegorical films such as Avatar, Moon, and Daybreakers. The chapter analyzes the notion of oil ontology, in which oil becomes synonymous with progress, and concludes by assessing the claim that technological modernity, and its consumer lifestyle, may have no future at all.

Keywords:   novels, energy, oil exhaustion, science fiction, liberal capitalism, films, oil ontology, progress, technological modernity

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