Finding Nemo: Energy, Justice and Transition

Presented by Upamanyu Pablo Mukherjee

Date: 
Monday, 1 August, 2022 - 16:00

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Abstract : The praxis of justice is obviously central to any meaningful realization of post-colonialism and post-capitalism. Without it there can be no transition out of colonialism and capitalism – “No justice, no peace” as the slogan on the Israeli occupation of Palestine has it. But all too often, such a praxis is the very reason for the failure to achieve this transition because it remains confined within the limits of the classical ‘distributive model’ of justice. While distributional issues are crucial, the latter cannot be reduced to them since maldistribution of justice is finally determined by socio-historical processes of domination, resistance and recognition. Any praxis of justice must attend to these before they can activate transition into a world without colonialism and capitalism. One such trigger for such a reconfigured praxis in our times has been the movement for environmental justice. Ranging from the examination of racial and ethnic dimensions of toxic hazards and ‘natural’ disasters, to structural analyses of colonialism and neo-colonialism, this movement compels our simultaneous recognition of the historicity of environment and the environment of history. Furthermore, the recognition that energy - and in particular fossil fuels - have shaped our everyday lives in ways ‘that we have never fully understood’, now raise the possibility of cross-fertilizing the praxis of justice with an ‘energy unconscious’. Such new forms of energy justice might finally put to rest the paradigmatic presence of the ‘distributive model’. But how new really are concepts such as ‘energy unconscious’ and ‘non-distributive justice’? In this paper, I trace a literary genealogy to suggest that they have long been present in the popular anticolonial-, and perhaps more surprisingly, in colonial imaginaries. I look at two pairs of European and South Asian texts – Jules Verne’s Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and Rudyard Kipling’s The Bridge Builders (1898) and Dinabandhu Mitra’s Neel Darpan (1858). Across the variety of forms (play, short story etc) genres (science fiction, imperial adventure), these texts test out the relationship between energy, justice, colonialism and capitalism as well as the limits and possibilities of transitions from their current configurations.

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