Oil & Water (ACLA March 2020)
Oil is everywhere, and that fact about the material world is generating more and more interest in a range of fields. Signs of the increasing visibility of oil as an object of study in the Environmental Humanties abound: The increasing circulation of terms like “Petroculture” and “petrocapital,” the emergence of the “Energy Humanities” as a subfield, and the nearly simultaneous publication of recent volumes such as Stephanie LeMenager’s Living Oil (2016); Sheena Wilson, Adam Carlson, and Imre Szeman’s Petrocultures (2017); and Szeman and Boyer’s Energy Humanities: an Anthology (2017). Each of these signals the intense and intensifying interest in examining oil as resource material and as substrate of late capitalist society. Scholars in a range of disciplines are working to theorize and bring into focus the myriad economic, environmental, social, and imaginative ramifications of our relationship with—and dependence on—oil. This panels invites participants to contribute to this conversation by exploring the relationship between oil and what David Orr has termed another “liquid to which we…are beholden”: water. In his provocative 2004 essay “Reflections on Water & Oil,” Orr proposes that "The meaning of water might best be approached in comparison with” oil. This seminar seeks to explore the ways that the meanings of oil might be approached through water. Orr’s conception of the relationship between these two substances hinges on a stark contrast: “Water makes life possible, while oil is toxic to most life. Water in its pure state is clear; oil is dark.” Orr even argues that “Oil and water have had contrary effects on our minds”: water inspires and heals; oil deadens the imagination and made us “dumber.” We invite participants to engage with these provocations by offering readings of the relationship between oil and water. How can we re-read or reimagine this conceptual opposition? How might thinking in terms of oil and water enrich and enliven discourses of environmentalism? Where are artists leading us in terms of imagining or reconfiguring this relationship to make it more sustainable? What might thinking with/through oil and water help us make visible? What might such thinking occlude? These are broad opening questions for a panel that is very much interested in exploration and discovering and pursuing new lines of inquiry. We welcome a range of approaches and questions.
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