A SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, Brent Ryan Bellamy currently studies narrative, US literature and culture, science fiction, and the cultures of energy.
Two central questions motivate his work:
1) What does it mean to imagine alternative energy futures?
2) How can we best understand, in order to move beyond, the social relations, infrastructures, and politics of fossil fuels?
He has three major projects underway that take up these two questions in varying ways:
Edited by Brent Ryan Bellamy, Chantal Bilodeau and Matthew Schneider-Mayerson
With the recent Paris agreement, an emerging global climate justice movement, and the vast transformations of climate change becoming more and more evident, it is clear that the world has entered an unprecedented period of intentional social and ecological transition. Whether this transition is framed and enacted as a simple replacement of fossil-fuel extraction with centralized renewable energy sources, or one that recalibrates human thought, infrastructure, and action to a greater awareness of our embeddedness in natural and more-than-human worlds remains to be seen. It depends, in some measure, on how thoughtful and creative human beings find meaningful ways to intervene in business as usual and guide it in more or less productive directions. One way to do so is through language itself: as linguists and scholars of literature have long understood, language not only reflects but shapes reality. Whereas a number of important recent works in the environmental humanities have reflected on the limitations of our existing ecological lexicon and the meanings of major keywords, we might ask whether we need not just new meanings for old words but rather a new vocabulary for a new era.
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Working through literary history, cultural theory, and social critique, Remainders of the American Century investigates the cultural scripts of U.S. decline in post-apocalyptic novels. I track the genre from its manifestation in Ignatius Donnelly’s late-Nineteenth Century work, Caesar’s Column, to some of the most category defining post-apocalyptic texts of the late-twentieth and early-twenty first centuries, such as Eric Conway and Naomi Oreskes The Collapse of Western Civilization (2014). Defined by its breadth of literary, cultural, and historical readings, this book treats a wide range of works, including the writings of Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Carola Dibbell, Brian Evenson, Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin, Chang-Rae Lee, Emily St. John Mandel, Richard Matheson, Cormac McCarthy, Walter Miller Jr., Kim Stanley Robinson, and Colson Whitehead. The book draws its conceptual strength from the novels themselves, which feature social and ideological remains—fragments of a world now gone. Remainders of the American Century addresses the difficulty of grasping history in the present through a form that challenges us to do so, and insists that we look at uncertainty and irresolution not as dead ends, but as creative ways to imagine the economic, environmental, social, and political limits of the present.
What narrative forms and genres might help to generate energy transition today? Genres of Energy arrives at a better understanding of the imaginaries associated with specific energy forms and explores how science fiction can illuminate the limits to imagining a world no longer dependant on carbon-rich, high-density energy sources. This title has a double meaning: it refers both to the various generic forms of writing that my study will take up and also to the different forms of energy that could power economic and social life. In my project, the two faces of genre are thus literary (i.e. science fiction) as well as energic (i.e. caloric, nuclear, solar, wind, hydro).
Genres of Energy necessarily attempts to come to terms with petromodernity and energy transition from within; there is no outside vantage point from which to write about it. I position my project within the field of energy humanities first named by Dominic Boyer and Imre Szeman and then elaborated by myself and Jeff Diamanti. The ubiquity of oil has made it the central focus of this emerging discipline; indeed, I think it is correct to understand ourselves as petrosubjects and our world as petromodernity. The study of energy as a narrative problem poses a number of pressing and uniquely interdisciplinary questions: How have fossil fuels facilitated, shaped, and enabled the production of culture since the industrial revolution? What impact do non-dominant energy sources have, if any, on genre? What do narratives that imagine life after energy transition, in its various guises, reveal about the present? Putting energy at the core of these questions, the research framework and methodology of Genres of Energy aims to intervene at the very limits of the epistemological impasses we face as the ecological effects of petroculture become increasingly pronounced and violent.