Readers
Energy
10 essays
Compiled by Alena J. Williams

With the recent devaluation of oil came the sudden realization that the supply of fossil fuels has surpassed its demand. Until now our acquisition and extraction of energy sources have driven irreparable ecological and socio-political interventions across the globe. Our collective “sheltering in place” reveals an opportunity to imagine modes of living within nature beyond its mere thermodynamic rationalization. At a time of imposed isolation, steadfast connections have unexpectedly persisted between and among people, animals, and things—energies which global capitalism has typically obscured. Could this new perspective on contemporary life engender alternate energetic relations in the pandemic's wake?

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Franco “Bifo” Berardi
The Future After the End of the Economy
Originally published in December 2011

At the end of 2010, I finished writing a book about the cultural collapse of the most important mythology of capitalist modernity: that of “the future” and its associated myths of energy, expansion, and growth. While I was writing, I sensed a possibility that the economic crisis could be deepening. But what actually happened in the summer of 2011—the extraordinary crash of global financial capitalism and the beginning of the European insurrection that exploded in London, Athens, and Rome in December 2010 and then grew massive in England during the four nights of rage in August, and which I expect to spread everywhere in the coming months—this has pushed me to write something more. Alas, writing about the present is a dangerous thing when circumstances change so quickly. But I cannot deny the thrill of running alongside the disaster.

Amanda Boetzkes and Andrew Pendakis
Visions of Eternity: Plastic and the Ontology of Oil
Originally published in September 2013

Plastic is the very idea of its infinite transformation … it is ubiquity made visible … it is less a thing than the trace of a movement.
—Roland Barthes

Brian Kuan Wood
Is it Heavy or Is it Light?
Originally published in January 2015

Even if we are to resign ourselves to thinking of artworks as produced by structural or economic conditions, we end up bumping into a larger problem of having a hard time locating the way structural or economic conditions actually work today. Maybe we are still inside the long historical tail of institutional critique trying to identify coercive structures when actually most of the institutions have already been defunded. Or maybe it’s a new formal regime altogether, amplifying Lippard’s pronouncement that conceptualism dematerialized art’s formal language in favor of time-based systems and ephemeral events. The material support, so to speak, became information. Only now we are dealing with a situation where the ephemerality of abstract concepts has become monstrous in its capacity to absorb financial values and meaning effects alike into a confusing soup of affective or speculative projections. And these effects decide the status and the fate of not only art objects, but entire cities, countries, and economies in a way that is difficult to describe or represent, and yet relies almost primarily on visibility and spectacle in order to transmit its information across the long distances of the planet. Under a regime of visibility that usurps older notions of substance, what figures can we use to affirm its surface effects, to understand its refractive powers, to crack open its hidden energies and make its calculus work for us and not against us? How has this new superficiality realized and flipped the politics of spectacle described by Debord? And why should we take a closer look at the sun?

Ana Teixeira Pinto
Death Wall: Extinction, Entropy, Singularity
Originally published in November 2015

In 1796, upon observing a vast array of elephant fossils, paleontologist George Cuvier noticed a puzzling fact: the fossilized mammoths of Europe and Siberia were different from living elephant species. None of the specimens in his collection corresponded to present-day African or Indian exemplars; they were all remains of fauna now extinct. At length, it dawned on him that another world might have preceded our own, a world whose existence had suddenly come to a halt, possibly “destroyed by some kind of catastrophe.” From that moment onwards Cuvier became an advocate of catastrophism, the geological school which claims that life has been subjected to sudden, yet periodic, violent natural events with fatal fallouts.

Donna Haraway
Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene
Originally published in September 2016

We are all lichens.
— Scott Gilbert, “We Are All Lichens Now”

Think we must. We must think.
—Stengers and Despret, Women Who Make a Fuss

Elizabeth A. Povinelli
Geontologies: The Concept and Its Territories
Originally published in April 2017

The Desert does not refer in any literal way to the ecosystem that, for lack of water, is hostile to life. The Desert is the affect that motivates the search for other instances of life in the universe and technologies for seeding planets with life; it colors the contemporary imaginary of North African oil fields; and it drives the fear that all places will soon be nothing more than the setting within a Mad Max movie. The Desert is also glimpsed in both the geological category of the fossil insofar as we consider fossils to have once been charged with life, to have lost that life, but as a form of fuel can provide the conditions for a specific form of life—contemporary, hypermodern, informationalized capital—and a new form of mass death and utter extinction; and in the calls for a capital or technological fix to anthropogenic climate change.

Timothy Morton
Subscendence
Originally published in October 2017

Subscendence affects things like nation-states, as huge and powerful as they appear. Subscendence is why you need a passport. It’s not to guarantee your identity, but to guarantee and prop up the identity of the state. Islamophobia sees Muslim terrorists as inevitably part of some larger, shadowy organization, while in the United States, white terrorists are always described as “lone wolves.” No matter how many of them shoot people in churches and outside abortion clinics and blow up government buildings, having trained in the Christian equivalent of an al-Qaeda training camp; no matter how many wolves there are, they are always seen as lone wolves, not as members of a pack. The concept that wholes are greater than the sum of their parts comes in ideologically handy because then Islamophobia can claim that Islamic terrorists are part of some emergent, shadowy whole, while white terrorists are individuals without a whole in sight.

Sven Lütticken
Shattered Matter, Transformed Forms: Notes on Nuclear Aesthetics, Part 1
Originally published in October 2018

Does climate change instantiate the “Kantian gap” between phenomenon and thing-in-itself, or rather actualize the Kantian correlation between mind and world, of which the thing-in-itself is the irrelevant remainder? As Déborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro have argued, “We can see the irony of our predicament as that of a catastrophic terrestrial objectivation of the correlation”—in other words, “human thought, materialized as a giant technological machine of planetary impact, effectively and destructively correlates the world.” If the productive abstractions of modern technoscience—this weaponized, transformative, operative logos—have remade the world, they have done so through the “actually existing linearity” of GDPs and CO2 levels.

Sven Lütticken
Shattered Matter, Transformed Forms: Notes on Nuclear Aesthetics, Part 2
Originally published in January 2019

While there are notable exceptions, especially in literature and the cinema, on the whole the art of the “first responders” of the late 1940s and ’50s tended to stage the postwar nuclear age as existential tragedy rather than as a political issue. In his conclusion, Newman asks and asserts: “Shall we artists make the same error as the Greek sculptors and play with an art of overrefinement, an art of quality, of sensibility, of beauty? Let us rather, like the Greek writers, tear the tragedy to shreds.” In much 1950s art, the possibility of a total and remainderless destruction of culture and of life is evoked, yet at the same time symbolically conquered through the proliferation of tattered, ravaged, or starkly simplified and thereby sublime and existential forms. In 1958, during an antinuclear conference in Tokyo, the philosopher and antinuclear activist Günther Anders visited the memorial of the nuclear bombardment in Hiroshima. Its abstract arch, which only appeared symbolic “because the non-functional always suggests symbolism,” reminded him of American abstract expressionism and its endorsement by the US, even by the War Department itself.

Oleksiy Radynski
Is Data the New Gas?
Originally published in March 2020

This animation or resuscitation of the gas network wasn’t an outlandish fantasy on the part of the filmmakers. In fact, the plot of Acceleration (1984) was loosely based on the life story of Viktor Glushkov, a pioneering computer scientist tasked with building oil pipeline networks, among other things, after his bold idea of an information network for the USSR was shelved, and his groundbreaking research on socialist artificial intelligence was put on the back burner by authorities. Glushkov was a leading figure in Soviet cybernetic science, a science that he claimed had to be applied to each and every sphere of socialist society. In 1970, top party officials downsized Glushkov’s idea for an overwhelming information-management-and-control network to a series of smaller-scale, disparate network projects. For the better part of the 1970s, he was busy computerizing the Druzhba (Friendship) oil pipeline network that carried Siberian oil into Eastern Europe.

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