The Birth of Homo Colossus: Energy Consumption and Pre-Familiarization in Joel Barlow’s Vision of Columbus
AbstractAlthough Raymond De Young points out the current response to energy descent he terms localization “is not globalization in reverse”, the writers of modernity’s energy ramp-up used many of the same techniques De Young proposes for adapting to the downslope of M. King Hubbert’s fossil-fuels peak. Among these is pre-familiarization, the construction of mental models that “help people to feel at home in a place they have not yet inhabited.” Long before William Catton’s depiction of the West’s outsized energy user as Homo colossus, for example, Joel Barlow provided early national Americans with a reflection of themselves as gigantic consumers of the continent’s bounty in his 1787 Vision of Columbus. In the epic poem, Barlow puts in place foundational elements of the myth of progress that will develop with an increasingly extravagant energy consumption: a refutation of the classical republican model of history as cyclical; a conflation of the process of resource extraction with that of production; a characterization of this “production” as the natural trait of the knowledgeable, moral Western subject; the pairing of this characterization with a racialized discourse; and an assertion of climate melioration that anticipates by two centuries the counter-arguments of anthropogenic climate-change denialists. The poem invites its reader to inhabit the skin of a lofty and distanced observer of natural life, drawing on the earlier century’s infatuation with the prospect view, to help the reader become “pre-familiarized” with an idea of him- or herself fitting an economic model of endless growth. In the work, therefore, might be found not only the blueprints for an as-yet inchoate Anthropocene, but also the design of a new humanity to go along with it. View Full-Text
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Pangborn, M. The Birth of Homo Colossus: Energy Consumption and Pre-Familiarization in Joel Barlow’s Vision of Columbus. Humanities 2016, 5, 39.
Pangborn M. The Birth of Homo Colossus: Energy Consumption and Pre-Familiarization in Joel Barlow’s Vision of Columbus. Humanities. 2016; 5(2):39.Chicago/Turabian Style
Pangborn, Matthew. 2016. "The Birth of Homo Colossus: Energy Consumption and Pre-Familiarization in Joel Barlow’s Vision of Columbus." Humanities 5, no. 2: 39.
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