Carbon atom

“Hello, folks! I’m a carbon atom!”

In 1946, this cute fellow was to be seen in a promotional film from the Standard Oil Company, Indiana. He conveyed to the sympathetic American audience of the time that the world of post-war (petro)modernity consists of atoms and molecules whose composition is intervened in by industrial culture: by means of distillation and cracking, being torn apart, reassembled and optimised – . mobilisation of the molecular.

In the petrochemical process, as illustrated by the animated sequences of the Inside Story of Modern Gasoline, “untamed and unruly” molecules are “improved on” and “controlled by science” . Over the decades, they have become indispensable aids to our industrial culture. Today, this partnership finds itself in a fundamental crisis. In view of man-made global warming, the little four-armed chap from the carefree days of petromodernity who likes to forge bonds seems more like a sinister villain. It therefore seems imperative to fundamentally reassess our relationship to those active materials, like the artificial carbon compounds, that define our age so decisively.


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