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Duncan Smith

Duncan Smith (1954-1991) published little during his life, most notably a collection of essays (Age of Oil), a speculative book about Elvis Presley (Private Elvis) co-authored with Diego Cortez, and a monograph on artist Alain Jacquet, as well as articles in Bomb, Semiotext(e), and Flash Art. At his death Smith was working toward a Ph.D in Classics at Cornell and completing a second collection of essays, Days in the Clouds.

On the Current Symbolic Status of Oil

As Duncan Smith notes toward the end of “On the Current Symbolic Status of Oil,” the essay was written during the Iran Hostage Crisis, that’s to say 1979–1980. It’s always helpful to know when a text was composed but in this case the dating is crucial: Smith’s virtuosic ode to oil in all its cultural, psychological and political ramifications was written in the midst of an energy crisis when, as a result of the U.S. halting oil imports from Iran, there was a panic that led to the doubling of oil prices and long lines at gas stations around the country.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2023

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