English R1A

Reading and Composition: Energy Fictions

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
7 Fall 2019 Barbour, Andrew John
MWF 2-3 204 Dwinelle

Book List

Bacigalupi, Paolo: The Water Knife; Pinkus, Karen: Fuel: A Speculative Dictionary; Sinclair, Upton: Oil!; Wise, A.C., Phoebe Wagner, et al, eds.: Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation; Zola, Emile: Germinal


This course explores literary and scientific perspectives on energy and its fictions from the early 19th century to the present, from the origins of carbon modernity and petroculture in the age of steam to contemporary 21st-century attempts to reckon with our carbon ideologies and transition to post-carbon energy regimes. From fossil fuels to electricity, oil to solar power, energy regimes and infrastructures fuel not only our politics and economics but also our everyday life. Energy forms from gasoline to wind move between science and literature, at once the domain of technological and scientific inquiry and of literary representation and energy narratives. We'll chart a trajectory from early 19th-century scientific and literary perspectives on coal and fossil capitalism at the outset of energetic modernity, from Émile Zola's Germinal and William Stanley Jevon's The Coal Question, to contemporary 21st-century science and literature narrativizing the fictions of fossil fuels and figuring post-carbon futures of alternative energy..

Over the course of the semester, we will mine both scientific and figurative elements of particular energy forms, from coal to renewable energy, and consider the extent to which scientific and aesthetic aspects of energy come into contact. Along the way, we'll investigate how particular energy forms from gasoline to solar power afford distinctive perspectives on questions of climate, ecology, and politics, and excavate our everyday experience of energy regimes and infrastructures. Readings include Émile Zola, William Stanley Jevons, Upton Sinclair, H.G. Wells, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Karen Pinkus. Over the course of the semester, you'll compose several essays of increasing length designed to empower your writing and fuel your composition skills.

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