Although it's probably something of a diversion from your stated topic (Energy in the arts), I thought of something with some relevance more directly to energy in politics(/economics).
You noted below:
"Since the mid-1970s, of course, there have been more thoughtful artworks which have reflected the basic fact that per-capita energy consumption peaked (depending on who your source is) between 1973 and 1979. Godfather I and II struck chords because they very accurately used the Mafia as a metaphor for big business and the U.S. government's foreign policy, both parasitical and destructive."
Your mention of the Godfather films reminded me of a web site that details the life of Augustus,
Here's an excerpt from the Introduction:
"My first insight into the Princeps as a human being, came from John Williams' wonderful novel, Augustus, strongly based on known historical sources, yet in which the individual Octavian somehow comes clear. In the changes between the teenaged Octavius and the cynical old Emperor, a great story is told. Sometimes a book of fiction, if it is well done, can illuminate much. My second insight may sound foolish, but it worked for me: watching the movie The Godfather one night, it suddenly hit me that Augustus was rather like the young Michael Corleone - not, perhaps, by nature a ruthless and cold-blooded leader of a tribe, but forced by circumstances to become one. If you delete the Christian morals of the movie, you have an insight into what Augustus was, and what he became, that I think is arguably better than the cold marble man so often presented in history classes."
Although my association of the the *Godfather* references may seem tenuous at first glance, there's more in it for me that initially meets the eye. I was reminded of something else by the introductory remarks which framed your discussion. Here's the segment that I'm referring to:
"A cursory look at narrative between the late Renaissance and the early 20th century suggests that literature had much to say about the maintenance of social boundaries (and hierarchies).
In a world where net energy (and therefore resource) availability is not growing, the economy is a zero-sum game. So, everybody will have a very strong incentive to
(a) conserve resources in order to maintain their social status
(b) ensure that the social and political order remain largely unchanged, since changes that benefit one person/group will deprive another."
Your thinking (to me) rings true. One of the pages at my web site (titled: History Lessons?) briefly examines the contours of Roman history in terms of resource availability. Here's the link:
The discussion at my web site implicitly includes consideration of the maintenance of social boundaries/hierarchies and the emergence of an economic zero-sum game in the Roman Empire. Although there's no specific reference to the arts with the consideration of Rome, there nevertheless (to me) may be a "systemic" parallel in overall process with the recent historical episode - interpreted through literature - that you've epitomized.
Perhaps we're experiencing something similar in outline to the Roman Empire as it morphed into the Principate to Dominate.
- Don Steehler
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, "chris stolz" <srstolz@...> wrote:
> Regarding Tom's request for posts on this topic--
> A cursory look at narrative between the late Renaissance and the early 20th century suggests that literature had much to say about the maintenance of social boundaries (and hierarchies).
> In a world where net energy (and therefore resource) availability is not growing, the economy is a zero-sum game. So, everybody will have a very strong incentive to
> (a) conserve resources in order to maintain their social status
> (b) ensure that the social and political order remain largely unchanged, since changes that benefit one person/group will deprive another.
> Shakespeare's plays are all deeply concerned with order. Questions of succession (Hamlet, I Henry IV, Macbeth) and warfare (Henry V), for example, condone political change only if leaders prove unable to maintain and exemplify that order; critics-- Falstaff comes to mind-- are disposed of. Lear is certainly a bloody warning of the dangers of sharing! The existence and brutality of the feudal order is never called into question, only its occasionally dramatic maladministration.
> In Austen, we see a scrabbling for status (via marriage) among the women and more indirectly among male characters; Austen's great Hegelian goal of reconciling moral worth with social stature is built around a kind of eternal unchangeability of the life of the country gentry. You have no idea that there are revolutions and colonisation afoot; what matters is that everyone marry within their "station," and that the wealthiest (Lizzie and Darcy, Emma) temper their incredible privilege with a certain moral empathy. When in EMMA, for example, an indigent family's appearance on the road horrifies the heroine, the subject of discussion among characters becomes not "why are there the poor?" but "how does a lady carry herself in such situations?"
> In the Victorian era, what we call "consumerism" started, with, for example, the conversion of Christmas from an obscure holiday to a major ritual. With its colonial incomes slowly filtering down to the poor, we begin to see (in Dickens, among others) a grudging admission that social transformation need not be destabilising (Oliver Twist). We also see for the first time an examination of the link between personal virtue and society's economic health: Scrooge is not only a miserable fucker, he is an impediment to the exchange of gifts (and therefore material propserity).
> In the American twentieth century, we see a fetishisation of individual experience (e.g. Beat writing) and an explosion of social commmentary from (and to) the dispossessed-- 1930s has Steinbeck, 1960s have Ellison, the feminists, Pynchon, etc. Both reflect the leisure time that oil-generated wealth offered wealthier Americans, and the optimism of the early 1960s, an optimism fired by Kennedy's symbolism and by the growth in real incomes of that time. There is also the usual massive literature of social conformity that any Empire produces. A steady diet of films and pulp novels from the late 1940s and continuing until now (random sampler: Robert Ludlum, Bond films, Stephen King, the Harlequin genres, John Grisham) reinforce the idas necessary believing in America: the outside can be controlled, and interruptions into the normal social order can be contained, allowing American (and symbolically similar) protagonists to live their lives peacefully; race, creed and gender need not limit anyone, provided that the generally capitalist American Dream informs those protagonists.
> Since the mid-1970s, of course, there have been more thoughtful artworks which have reflected the basic fact that per-capita energy consumption peaked (depending on who your source is) between 1973 and 1979. Godfather I and II struck chords because they very accurately used the Mafia as a metaphor for big business and the U.S. government's foreign policy, both parasitical and destructive. Scorsese's masterful early films-- Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull-- are ultimately about the failure of the working class to get ahead; and in 1990 he produced GoodFellas, whose film's final frames slammed home the message that the roots of the American middle class lay in the sordid soil of greed and violence (a theme powerfully taken up by the masterful Sopranos series, whose opening images of Tony retrieving his newspaper echo GoodFellas' final scene).
> In the 2000s, we have the Sopranos, Battlestar Galactica, Lost (to name a few)-- all examine the problems of a generation of Americans with staggering but declining wealth, and very real competition from the Others. Galactica's Cylon robots are figurative Muslim fundamentalists, while Lost's characters (like those of STar Wars, which Lost incessantly quotes) are without exception looking for a Dad who has left the building after absconding with the wealth. In the Sopranos, the mobsters, like the U.S., are under siege, and the crumbling of their traditions (gay and Jewish gangsters? Computer fraud? Kids going civilian?) is a much an indicator of changing times as it is a sign that the social skin on which the parasite feasts is running dry.
> So yea. My random sampler of narrative is saying that there certainly is a link between energy availability and socially acceptable behaviours, and that these end up being a part of stories.