I’ve been thinking about petromodernity wrong, or at least not as clearly as I could. I’ve failed to make an important distinction between petromodernity as a condition and as a project. In the first instance, what I mean is how we live our lives in a world saturated by oil. In the second, what I mean is the goals to which we claim to be working, with the help of oil and its attendant technologies. To understand petromodernity as a condition is an empirical task. To understand it as a project is rhetorical and philosophical.

Simply put, the API advertisements tell a story that explains the nature of progress. They tell us what progress is and how oil helps us achieve it. They explain how we get from “here” to “there” (and, more fundamentally, where we understand “here” and “there” to be). It is this way that they underpin a project of modernity, or more to the point, a project of petromodernity.

My task now, it seems, will be to piece together the story the API ads tell, and answer these questions:

  • How has petromodernity as a project shaped petromodernity as a condition?
  • How has petromodernity as a condition shaped petromodernity as a project?
  • Who exactly do I mean when I say “we”?
  • What does this project of petromodernity reveal about the iterations of petromodernity described by others?