Ecocriticism and the oil encounter : readings from the Niger Delta

Aghoghovwia, Philip Onoriode (2014-04)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The study seeks to understand the ways that environmental concerns and the phenomenon of oil production in the Niger Delta are captured in contemporary literary representations. In the thesis, I enlist several works, five poetry collections and a Nollywood video film, produced between 1998 and 2010, to investigate and analyse the different ways they engage with the effects of oil extraction as a form of violence that is not immediately apparent. Amitav Ghosh argues that representing something of such magnitude as oil modernity can only be done adequately through narratives of epic quality such as realist fiction or the historical novel. I move away from Ghosh’s assumptions to argue that the texts, poetry and video film have adequately captured the oil encounter, but not on a grand scale or through realist fiction. I situate Niger Delta representations of the oil encounter within the intellectual frame of petrocultures, a recent field of global study which explores the representational and critical domain within which oil is framed and imagined in culture. In their signification of what I call the “oil ontology”, that is, the very nature and existence of oil in the Delta, lived-experience in its actual quotidian specificity, takes precedence in the imagination of the writers that I study. I propose that the texts, in very different ways, articulate these experiences by concatenating social and environmental concerns with representations of the oil encounter to produce a petro-literary form which inflects and critiques the ways in which oil extraction, in all its social and environmental manifestations, inscribes a form of violence upon the landscape and human population in the oil sites of the Delta. I suggest that the texts articulate a place-based, place-specific form of petroculture. They emphasis the notion that the oil encounter in the Delta is not the official encounter at the point of extraction but rather the unofficial encounter with the side-effects of the oil extraction. The texts, in very different ways address similar concerns of violence as an intricate feature in the Delta, both as a physical, spectacular phenomenon and as a subtle, unseen category. They conceive of violence as a consequence of the various forms of intrusion and disruption that the logic of oil extraction instigates in the Niger Delta. I suggest that the form of eco-poetics that is articulated gives expression to environmental concerns which are marked off by an oily topos in the Delta. I maintain that in projecting an artistic vision that is sensitive to environmental and sociocultural questions, the writings that we encounter from this region also make critical commentary on the ontology of oil. The texts conceive the Niger Delta as one that provides the spatial and material template for envisioning the oil encounter and staging a critique of the essentially globalised space that is the site of oil production.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie ondersoek die maniere waarop omgewingsbelange en die instellings van olieproduksie in die Delta van die Niger-rivier vasgevang word in kontemporêre letterkundige voorstellings. In my tesis gebruik ek verskeie werke – vyf versamelings van gedigte en ‘n Nollywood [Nigeriese] video, almal geskep tussen 1998 en 2010 – om die verskillende wyses waarop hierdie tekste omgaan met die gevolge van olie-ontginning, as ‘n vorm van geweld wat nie onmiddellik opvallend is nie, na te vors en te analiseer. Amitav Ghosh argumenteer dat, om ‘n fenomeen van sulke geweldige omvang soos olie-moderniteit uit te beeld, slegs na behore uitgevoer kan word in narratiewe van epiese dimensies; byvoorbeeld realistiese fiksie of die historiese roman. Ek beweeg weg van Ghosh se aannames deur te argumenteer dat die tekste (gedigte en ‘n video-film) wel die olie-ervaring behoorlik vasvang, maar nie op groot skaal soos in realistiese fiksie nie. Ek plaas die Niger-Delta uitbeeldings van die olie-ervaring binne die groter raamwerk van Petro-kulture: ‘n nuwe studiegebied wat die voorstellings- en kritiese domein waarbinne olie gekonseptualiseer en kultureel verbeel(d) word, ondersoek. In hul voorstellings van die olie-ontologie van die Delta neem die ervaringswêreld in sy daaglikse werklikhede (in die gekose skrywers se uitbeelding daarvan) ‘n sentrale plek in. Ek konstateer dat die tekste, hoewel op heel uiteenlopende maniere, hierdie ervarings artikuleer deur sosiale en omgewings-oorwegings byeen te bring met uitbeeldings van die olie-ervaring ten einde ‘n petro-literêre vorm te skep wat die maniere waarop olie-ontginning, in al die sosiale en omgewings-effekte daarvan, ‘n vorm van geweld op die landskap en die menslike bevolking van die olie-ontginningsgebiede van die Delta inskryf, inflekteer en krities analiseer. Ek stel dit dat die tekste ‘n plek-gebaseerde en gebieds-spesifieke vorm van Petrokultuur artikuleer. Hulle benadruk die feit dat die olie-ervaring in die Delta nie die offisiële ontmoeting by die ontginningspunt is nie, maar eerder die onoffisiële ondervinding van die newe-effekte van die olie-ontginningsproses. Op hul verskillende wyses spreek die tekste ‘n ooreenstemmende besorgdheid uit aangaande die ingewikkelde rol wat geweld in die Delta speel – beide as ‘n fisiese, ooglopende fenomeen en as ‘n subtiele, ongesiene kategorie. Die tekste konseptualiseer geweld as seinde die gevolg van die verskeie vorme van ingryping en versteuring wat deur die logika van die olie-ontginningsproses in die Niger-Delta meegebring word. Ek suggereer dat die vorm van eko-poëtika wat hier geartikuleer word, uitdrukking gee aan omgewings-oorwegings wat in die Delta deur ‘n olie(rige) topos omgrens word. Ek maak die stelling dat, deur middle van ‘n artistieke visie wat gevoelig is vir omgewings-en sosiale vrae, die tekste wat in hierdie gebied ontstaan, kritiese kommentaar bied op die ontologie van olie. Die tekste verbeel die Niger-Delta as ‘n gebied wat die ruimtelike en materiële templaat voorsien om die olie-ervaring te visualiseer en te konseptualiseer, om sodoende ‘n kritiek te skep van die geglobaliseerde ruimte van olie-produksie.

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