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Oil Culture$
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Ross Barrett and Daniel Worden

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780816689682

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816689682.001.0001

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A Short History of Oil Cultures; or, The Marriage of Catastrophe and Exuberance

A Short History of Oil Cultures; or, The Marriage of Catastrophe and Exuberance

(p.69) 4 A Short History of Oil Cultures; or, The Marriage of Catastrophe and Exuberance
Oil Culture

Frederick Buell

University of Minnesota Press

This chapter focuses on the development of two cultural discourses that have informed literary interpretations of oil’s meaning since the nineteenth century: exuberance and catastrophe. While exuberance has given rise to promotional imaginings of oil as a vehicle of personal and societal progress, catastrophe has inspired critical reconsiderations of petroleum’s ruinous potential. The chapter discusses two books in an attempt to bridge the gap between energy and culture: William Catton’s Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change and Jean-Claude Debeir, Jean-Paul Deléage, and Daniel Hémery’s In the Servitude of Power. It also examines the so-called “culture of extraction” and “oil-electric-coal capitalism” and suggests that oil’s power, complexity, and serious woes are not only transparent to people today as never before, they are also themselves a hot cultural commodity in oil capitalism. In the process, the old traditions of exuberance and catastrophe, embedded in the earliest oil literature, have taken on extreme new forms.

Keywords:   oil, exuberance, catastrophe, energy, culture, William Catton, In the Servitude of Power, oil capitalism

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