While humanities studies of petroculture have focused on the substance of oil, this article considers the role that surfactants play in the remediation of oil spills as forms of anti-visual media. Through tracing the usage of surfactants like Corexit and Dawn, used to disperse oil and clean oiled wildlife during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, I develop a theory of the "fluid cut." Whereas photography theory tends to think of the "cut" as the click of a camera shutter that slices through moments in time, "fluid cuts" of surfactants like Corexit relate more to processes of diffusion in the medium of seawater. Through readings of photographic images by Daniel Beltrá and ads by the dish soap company Dawn, I show how surfactants like Corexit and Dawn liquid dish soap constitute forms of anti-visual media that exemplify petroculture's desire to cover over its origins. The fluid cut leads me to consider how Anthropocene discourse should not only involve geologic accumulation but also chemical agency, addressing processes specific to liquids and their capacity for cutting, dissolving, dispersing, and suspending.


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pp. 525-544
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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