Fossil fuels don’t simply impact our ability to commute to and from work.
They condition our sensory lives, our erotic experiences, and our aesthetics; they structure what we assume to be normal and healthy; and they prop up a distinctly modern bargain with nature that allows populations and economies to grow wildly beyond the older and more clearly understood limits of the organic economy.
My recent book, Carbon Nation: Fossil Fuels in the Making of American Culture (UP Kansas 2014), charts the course by which a flood of prehistoric carbon calories impressed itself—in both conscious and unconscious ways—on the modern American economy and body, including on our ways of being, knowing, and sensing in the world. By ranging across film studies, literary criticism, journalism, politics, art history, and ecology, it shows how on our way to becoming modern, Americans of different classes, races, sexes, and conditions learned to embrace, absorb, and navigate the cultural potentialities and myriad costs of fossil fuels.
We have yet to fully understand our embedded-ness in prehistoric carbon; and in this book I explore how those things that we take to be natural in the modern world are, in fact, historical — and that our history, our culture, and even our embodied memories arise in good part from this disquieting embrace of the coal mine, the stoke hole, and the oil derrick.
Image Credit: Detroit Publishing Company. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.