Using examples from the literature on coal, electricity, and oil, this essay argues that fossil fuels not only are imbricated in the material processes of daily life but also cocreate ideologies and imaginative potentialities. The essay examines a recent production of a trilogy of plays about a coal-mining community—D. H. Lawrence’s Husbands and Sons (performed at the National Theatre, 2015–16)—as a “thick” description of human-energy relations. That production coincided with the closure of the last deep coal mine in Britain, a poignant conjunctural moment that inspired a number of other similarly elegiac exercises in knowledge production and sensemaking. The remarkable disconnect evident between “the end of coal” and climate change suggests, in Latourian terms, the ontological rift that separates culture from nature. A cultural representation of coal as an actor with effects allows for a more plausible and fluid set of human-nonhuman relationships—one that recognizes spatiality as well as temporality, flows and becomings as well as (none-too-convincing) endings.


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pp. 53-71
Launched on MUSE
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