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Fuel : A Speculative Dictionary (Paperback) (Karen Pinkus)
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Fuel is an idiosyncratic, speculative dictionary of fuels, real and imagined, historical and futuristic, hopeless and utopian. Drawing on literature, film, and scientific treatises—most produced long before “climate change” was in circulation—Fuel argues for a distinction between energy (a system of power) and fuel (a substance, which can be thought of as “potentiality”) as it works to undo the dream that we can simply switch to renewables and all will be golden.
Ranging from “Air” to “Zyklon B,” entries in this unusual “dictionary” include Algae, Clathrates, Dilithium, Fleece, Goats, Theology, Whale Oil, and many, many more. The tone of the entries ranges nearly as widely as the topics themselves: from historical anecdotes (the Ford Fiesta “boozemobile”) to eccentric readings of the classics of “energy lit” (Germinal and Oil!); from literary observations (a high octane Odyssey?) to excursions into literary theory. And the dictionary draws from an eccentric canon including works by Jules Verne, George Eliot’s Silas Marner, and Paolo Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl, and the Tom Cruise vehicle, Oblivion, among others.
A message from this ambitious work is that energy can be understood as a heterogeneous set of self-mystifying systems or machines that block access to thought as they fascinate us. Fuels emerge as more primal elements that the audience can grasp at various points along the way to consumption/combustion. This dictionary can help scramble our thinking about fuel—not in order to demonize energy and not in order to create a new hierarchy in which certain renewables take over from fossil fuels but instead to open up potential ways of interacting with real and imaginary substances, by wrenching them out of narrative, and placing them into the form of an idiosyncratic dictionary to be replaced by users into new narratives.