Fuel (Paperback)

A Speculative Dictionary (Posthumanities #39)

By Karen Pinkus

Univ Of Minnesota Press, 9780816699988, 152pp.

Publication Date: November 1, 2016

Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (11/1/2016)

List Price: 25.00*
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Fuel is an idiosyncratic, speculative dictionary of fuels, real and imagined, historical and futuristic, hopeless and utopian. Drawing on literature, film, and scientific treatises—most produced long before “climate change” was in circulation—Fuel argues for a distinction between energy (a system of power) and fuel (a substance, which can be thought of as “potentiality”) as it endeavors to undo the dream that we can simply switch to renewables and all will be golden.

From “Air” to “Zyklon B,” entries in this unusual “dictionary” include Algae, Clathrates, Dilithium, Fleece, Goats, Theology, Whale Oil, and many, many more. The tone of the entries ranges as widely as the topics: from historical anecdotes (the Ford Fiesta “boozemobile”) to eccentric readings of the classics of “energy lit” (Germinal and Oil!); from literary observations (a high octane Odyssey?) to excursions into literary theory. The dictionary draws from an eccentric canon, including works by Jules Verne, George Eliot’s Silas Marner, Paolo Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl, and the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion, among others. 

A message from this ambitious project is that energy can be understood as a heterogeneous set of self-mystifying systems or machines that block access to thought as they fascinate us. Fuels emerge as more primal elements that the audience can grasp at various points along the way to consumption/combustion. This dictionary can help scramble our thinking about fuel—not in order to demonize energy and not in order to create a new hierarchy in which certain renewables take over from fossil fuels but instead to open up potential ways of interacting with real and imaginary substances, by wrenching them out of narrative and placing them into an idiosyncratic dictionary to be applied by readers into new narratives.  

About the Author

Karen Pinkus is professor of Italian and comparative literature at Cornell University and chair of the Faculty Advisory Board of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. She has widely written on climate change and the humanities, as well as on literary theory, visual arts, Italian culture, and cinema. Her books include Bodily Regimes: Italian Advertising under Fascism (Minnesota, 1995) and Alchemical Mercury: A Theory of Ambivalence.

Praise For Fuel: A Speculative Dictionary (Posthumanities #39)

"From the first we realize Fuel is not a traditional academic essay, but a fantastic dictionary, full of tall tales, craziness, real history, fake history, anticipations of the future, segues from one fuel form or fantasy to another, and sheer nonsense tied to hard truths. In this sense it's like fuel—there at the beginning and still with us, kicking and screaming, to the bitter end."—Allan Stoekl, Pennsylvania State University

"With a nod to dictionary mania of Jules Verne, Fuel maps what starts as the common law right to a small bundle of wood but becomes an ever more dangerous dream of the power of pure fuel-less energy. Air, amber, bitumen . . . coal, cobalt, coke . . . Pinkus brilliantly punctures this gaseous utopian fantasy of an immaterial fuel and gestures toward a present less addicted to future fuels."—Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Columbia University

"Pinkus totes a toolbox packed with allegory and alchemy, theories and thinkers with which to prod her materials. The fuels catalogued range from the (seemingly) obvious – wood, coal, oil, uranium – through the more fictional-imaginative – the philosopher’s stone, dilithium crystals – to the (seemingly) absurd – albatrosses, goats, the arrow of Eros, patriotism."—New Scientist

"An illuminating read for those engaging in interdisciplinary work on the concerns of climate change."—CHOICE

"A heroic effort to remind us that sustainability is often an illusion caused by our human-sized view of the world."—The Manchester Review of Books

"Inventive and engaging."—Los Angeles Review of Books

"Pinkus’s innovative and eccentric book proves to be the perfect gateway to analyze underrepresented perspectives of the energy world, destabilizing existing narratives about fuels." —PoLAR