On Solarity: Six Principles for Energy and Society After Oil

  • Imre Szeman
Keywords: Solar energy, energy humanities, environmental humanities, Georges Bataille, Olafur Eliasson, political theory

Abstract

This essay critically interrogates the hopes, fears, and fantasies that accompany the future social and political projections of a transition to solar energy. It does so through the elaboration of six principles for understanding solar energy, with the aim of adding context and complexity to the principle energy narrative already emerging around this source of energy. Solar contains a double promise: energy without fuel and infinite energy. But despite the radical possibilities that might emerge from this fundamental redefinition of our relation to energy, solar also contains all manner of limitations—the weight of the materials necessary to create solar power; the blunt reality of existing forms of economics and politics that work to contain the changes solar might bring into existence; and the mechanisms of power that are likely to contain solar within (in Bataille’s term) a restrictive economy. Against the techno-determinist tendency to imagine that the introduction of solar energy will produce radical social change on its own, I argue for the need to articulate and struggle for “solarity,” a politics appropriate to the coming challenges of the solar era.

Author Biography

Imre Szeman

University Research Chair,
Department of Communication Arts University of Waterloo,
200 University Avenue W., Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1 Canada
E-mail: iszeman@uwaterloo.ca

References

Barney, Darin, and Imre Szeman (2021). “Introduction.” Special Issue on “Solarity.” South Atlantic Quarterly 120.1, forthcoming.
Bataille, Georges (1988). The Accursed Share, Vol. 1. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Zone Books.
Bellamy, Brent, and Jeff Diamanti, eds (2018). Materialism and the Critique of Energy. Chicago: MCM Press.
Bloomberg NEF (2019). “New Energy Outlook Report.” https://about.bnef.com/ new-energy-outlook/#toc-download.
Boyer, Dominic (2018). “Revolutionary Infrastructure.” In The Promise of Infra- structure, ed. Nikhil Anand, Akhil Gupta, and Hannah Appel, 174–86. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Brennan, Shane (2017). “Visionary Infrastructure: Community Solar Streetlights in Highland Park.” Journal of Visual Culture 16.2: 167–89.
Buck, Holly Jean (2019). After Geoengineering: Climate Tragedy, Repair, and Restoration. London: Verso.
Cross, Jamie, Dustin Mulvaney, and Benjamin Brown (2020). Capitalizing on the Sun: Critical Perspectives on the Global Solar Economy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni- versity Press.
Dardot, Pierre, and Christian Laval (2019). Common: On Revolution in the 21st Century. trans. Matthew Maclellan. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Debeir, Jean-Claude, Jean-Paul Deléage, and Daniel Hémery (1991). In the Servitude of Power: Energy and Civilization Through the Ages. Trans. John Barzman. London: Zed Books.
Dvorak, Phred (2020). “Can Solar Power Compete with Coal? In India, It’s Gaining Ground.” Wall Street Journal, 17 Feb 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/solar- power-is-beginning-to-eclipse-fossil-fuels-11581964338.
Groys, Boris (2015). Under Suspicion: A Phenomenology of Media. Columbia Scholar- ship Online.
Frichot, Hélène (2008). “Olafur Eliasson and the Circulation of Affects and Percepts: In Conversation.” Architectural Design 78.3: 30–35.
Heidegger, Martin (1977). “The Question Concerning Technology.” In The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt, 3–35. London: New York Harper & Row.
Hornby, Louise (2017). “Appropriating the Weather: Olafur Eliasson and Climate Control.” Environmental Humanities 9.1: 60–83.
Illich, Ivan (1974). Energy and Equity. London: Calder and Boyars.
Illich, Ivan (2001). Tools for Conviviality. London: Marion Boyers.
Illich, Ivan (2010). “The Social Construction of Energy.” New Geographies 2: 12–19. Kimmelman, Michael (2004). “The Sun Sets at the Tate Modern” The New York Times, 21 March, 2004. https://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/21/arts/art-the-sun-sets-at-the-tate-modern.html.
Malm, Andreas (2016). Fossil Capitalism. London: Verso.
Marx, Karl (1993). “Fragment on Machines.” In Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, trans. Martin Nicolaus, 690–712. London: Penguin Books. Mason, Paul (2017). Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Mitchell, Timothy (2011). Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. London: Verso.
Overland, Indra (2019). “The Geopolitics of Renewable Energy: Debunking Four Emerging Myths.” Energy Research & Social Science 49: 36–40.
Pinkus, Karen (2016). Fuel: A Speculative Dictionary. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Salminen, Antii, and Tere Vadén (2015). Energy and Experience: An Essay in Nafthology. Chicago: MCM Prime.
Schwartzman, David (2017). “Beyond Eco-Catastrophism: The Conditions for Solar Communism.” Socialist Register: 143–60.
Sivaram, Varun (2018). Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Srnicek, Nick, and Alex Williams (2016). Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. London: Verso.
Stoekl, Allan (2007). Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion and Postsustainability. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Szeman, Imre (2019). On Petrocultures: Globalization, Culture, and Energy. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.
Szeman, Imre, and Dominic Boyer, eds. (2017). Energy Humanities: An Anthology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Truscello, Michael (2017). “Off-Grid.” In Fueling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment, ed. Imre Szeman, Jennifer Wenzel, and Patricia Yaeger, 48–251. New York: Fordham University Press.
Published
2020-07-25
How to Cite
SzemanI. (2020). On Solarity: Six Principles for Energy and Society After Oil. Stasis, 9(1). Retrieved from http://stasisjournal.net/index.php/journal/article/view/164