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Oil Culture

2014

Ross Barrett and Daniel Worden, Editors

Oil Culture

The cultural life of oil—from aesthetics and politics to economy and ecology

Investigating cultural discourses that have taken shape around oil, these essays in Oil Culture compose the first sustained attempt to understand how petroleum has suffused the Western imagination. By considering oil as both a natural resource and a trope, the authors show how oil’s dominance is part of culture rather than an economic or physical necessity.

An edited collection of short, punchy pieces

In the 150 years since the birth of the petroleum industry, oil has saturated our culture, fueling our cars and wars, our economy and policies. But just as thoroughly, culture saturates oil. So what exactly is “oil culture”? This book pursues an answer through petrocapitalism’s history in literature, film, fine art, wartime propaganda, and museum displays. Investigating cultural discourses that have taken shape around oil, these essays compose the first sustained attempt to understand how petroleum has suffused the Western imagination.

The contributors to this volume examine the oil culture nexus, beginning with the whale oil culture it replaced and analyzing literature and films such as Giant, Sundown, Bernardo Bertolucci’s La Via del Petrolio, and Ben Okri’s “What the Tapster Saw”; corporate art, museum installations, and contemporary photography; and apocalyptic visions of environmental disaster and science fiction. By considering oil as both a natural resource and a trope, the authors show how oil’s dominance is part of culture rather than an economic or physical necessity. Oil Culture sees beyond oil capitalism to alternative modes of energy production and consumption.

Contributors: Georgiana Banita, U of Bamberg; Frederick Buell, Queens College; Gerry Canavan, Marquette U; Melanie Doherty, Wesleyan College; Sarah Frohardt-Lane, Ripon College; Matthew T. Huber, Syracuse U; Dolly Jørgensen, Umeå U; Stephanie LeMenager, U of Oregon; Hanna Musiol, Northeastern U; Chad H. Parker, U of Louisiana at Lafayette; Ruth Salvaggio, U of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Heidi Scott, Florida International U; Imre Szeman, U of Alberta; Michael Watts, U of California, Berkeley; Jennifer Wenzel, Columbia U; Sheena Wilson, U of Alberta; Rochelle Raineri Zuck, U of Minnesota Duluth; Catherine Zuromskis, U of New Mexico.

Oil Culture

Ross Barrett is assistant professor of art history at the University of South Carolina.

Daniel Worden teaches in the School of Individualized Study at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Allan Stoekl is professor of French and comparative literature at Penn State University.

Oil Culture

An edited collection of short, punchy pieces

Ross Barrett and Daniel Worden's Oil Culture offers lively and passionate discussions of oil's ubiquitous yet sometimes invisible cultural presence.

Journal of Historical Geography

The collection’s strength lies in its ability to provoke new lines of inquiry, especially with regard to the intersections of energy studies and cultural studies.

Environmental History

What Oil Culture brings to the table of global scholarship is an incredibly savvy intellectual manoeuvre that links Oil Studies with Cultural Studies

Oil Culture

A groundbreaking work in oil studies that will provoke future critical conversation about and study of petrocapitalism, cultural representations of oil, and imaginative renderings of a ‘post-oil future.’

The Year’s Work in English Studies

Oil Culture

Contents

Foreword
Allan Stoekl

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Ross Barrett and Daniel Worden

Part I. Oil's Origins and Modernization
1. Whale Oil Culture, Consumerism, and Modern Conservation
Heidi Scott
2. The Wizard of Oil: Abraham James, the Harmonial Wells, and the Psychometric History of the Oil Industry
Rochelle Raineri Zuck
3. Picturing a Crude Past: Primitivism, Public Art, and Corporate Oil Promotion in the United States
Ross Barrett
4. A Short History of Oil Cultures; or, The Marriage of Catastrophe and Exuberance
Frederick Buell

Part II. Oil’s Golden Age: Literature, Film, and Propaganda
5. Essential Driving and Vital Cars: American Automobile Culture in World War II
Sarah Frohardt-Lane
6. Fossil-Fuel Futurity: Oil in Giant
Daniel Worden
7. Liquid Modernity: Sundown in Pawhuska, Oklahoma
Hanna Musiol
8. From Isfahan to Ingolstadt: Bertolucci’s La via del petrolio and the Global Culture of Neorealism
Georgiana Banita

Part III. The Local and Global Territories of Oil
9. Aramco’s Frontier Story: The Arabian American Oil Company and Creative Mapping in Postwar Saudi Arabia
Chad H. Parker
10. Oil Frontiers: The Niger Delta and the Gulf of Mexico
Michael Watts
11. Petro-magic-realism Revisited: Unimagining and Reimagining the Niger Delta
Jennifer Wenzel
12. Refined Politics: Petroleum Products, Neoliberalism, and the Ecology of Entrepreneurial Life
Matthew T. Huber
13. Gendering Oil: Tracing Western Petrosexual Relations
Sheena Wilson

Part IV. Exhibiting Oil
14. Mixing Oil and Water: Naturalizing Offshore Oil Platforms in American Aquariums
Dolly Jørgensen
15. Petroaesthetics and Landscape Photography: New Topographics, Edward Burtynsky, and the Culture of Peak Oil
Catherine Zuromskis
16. Fossil, Fuel: Manifesto for the Post-Oil Museum
Stephanie LeMenager

Part V. The Future of and without Oil
17. Retrofutures and Petrofutures: Oil, Scarcity, Limit
Gerry Canavan
18. Crude Aesthetics: The Politics of Oil Documentaries
Imre Szeman
19. Oil and Dust: Theorizing Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia
Melanie Doherty
20. Imagining Angels on the Gulf
Ruth Salvaggio

Contributors
Index