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Humanities Lab | Karen Pinkus

Fuel in Western Culture and Philosophy

Karen Pinkus

Join us for a lecture by Professor Karen Pinkus, Monday, September 26 at 1 p.m. in 228 Battelle-Tompkins, on the concept of "Fuel" in western culture and philosophy, and the ways in which our understanding of energy has structured modernity. 

In this talk, professor Pinkus will discuss the concept of fuel in human culture and philosophy, from antiquity to the present day.

Part of her new book, Fuel: A Speculative Dictionary (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), the talk examines different types of fuel, from everyday fossil and renewable fuels to fantastical fuels found in science fiction and speculative literature. This work was inspired by professor Pinkus’ concern about the environment, and her sense that that the humanities can bring a critical research component to solving the problems of climate change.

Pinkus uses tools from the humanities, such as critical theory, philosophy, and literary analysis, to separate fuel from energy, and to examine our relationship with fuel itself. Is fuel a form of pure potentiality, that is, power, but before it is used (up)? She proposes that fuels are materials that have “very complex relationships with our own thought structures, fantasies, narratives, or ways of being in the world.” Read more on our Wordpress site.


About Professor Pinkus

Karen Pinkus is Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature. She is also a minor graduate field member in Studio Art, a member of the Advisory Board of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and a member of the Climate Change Focus Group. Professor Pinkus has published widely in Italian culture, literary theory, cinema, visual theory, and environmental theory. Aside from Italian she also works with French, Latin, German, Spanish, and is learning Swedish.

She has several ongoing research projects:
1) on the Italian side, a book, tentatively titled Autonomia/Automata: Machines for Writing, Laboring and Thinking in 1960s Italy explores issues around labor, automation and repetition in Italian art, literature, design and film of the 60s. In part, this work is in dialogue with contemporary Italian thought, especially as regards the question of the Autonomia movement, the refusal to work, and the question of wages.

2) A forthcoming book titled Fuel thinks about issues crucial to climate change by arguing for a separation of fuel (perhaps understood as potentiality, or dynamis, to use the Aristotelian term) from energy as a system of power (actuality, use).  Fuel follows a series of literary, filmic and critical texts through the form of a dictionary (from “air” to “zyklon D”).  Fuel engages with literature, art and critical theory as they are central to analogy and in turn, to fuel itself.

Professor Pinkus is on the editorial boards of diacritics and World Picture Journal. For diacritics, she edited a special issue on climate change criticism (43.1), thirty years on from the influential issue on nuclear criticism.