Call for Papers, Oil Fictions: World literature and our Contemporary Petrosphere

CALL FOR PAPERS: Oil Fictions: World literature and our Contemporary Petrosphere

In his much-remarked 1992 review of Abdulrahman Munif’s Cities of Salt, novelist Amitav Ghosh asks: “why, when there is so much to write about, has [the oil] encounter proved so imaginatively sterile?” Twenty-five years on, this question continues to animate discussions around petro-fiction—so much so that Ghosh would return to this central query at the outset of his recent lectures on climate change, albeit in a slightly broader context. The review, entitled “Petrofiction: The Oil Encounter and the Novel,” is generally considered a seminal text in the emergent field of Petrocriticism.  Its central premises regarding the dearth of attention to the oil encounter in popular fiction laid the groundwork for petrocritics like Graeme Macdonald and Imre Szeman to ask: just what constitutes “petrofiction"? Taking this a step further: was Ghosh’s coinage sufficient for capturing the capacious nature of what Szeman would later call “oil fiction”—those works that conjure the affective substrate of our “petrol world,” whether in the immediate shadow of the oil field or the broader lineaments of our global petrosphere? (Szeman 2012; LeMenager).  Novels like Chris Abani’s petro-picaresque GraceLand, or Ghosh’s own The Glass Palace, stretch the limits of petrofiction beyond the initial oil encounter to paint the broader imperial geography of petromodernity. 

In their recent anthology, Szeman and Dominic Boyer make clear that Ghosh’s 1992 provocation retains its salience as artists and critics continue to grapple with similar questions of representation: “If it has been so difficult to grasp and grapple with so important an element," the authors remark, "it is in many respects because fossil fuels are saturated into every aspect of our social substance” (Energy Humanities 2016). The ensuing chapters catalogue a rich history of attempts to grapple with its increasing ubiquity.

While petrocriticism is generally taken to be a sub-discipline of eco-criticism, the proliferation of recent work under the umbrella of the Energy Humanities (and specifically, Petrocultures) signals the emergence of a discrete critical practice—one grounded in a collective recognition that we “need more than ever a critical project adequate to energy’s pervasiveness across contemporary experience” (Petrocultures: Oil, Politics, Culture 2017). Oil Fictions: World literature and our Contemporary Petrosphere is an attempt to grapple with the pervasiveness of this often-invisible biocultural agent through the cultivation of a robust petro-aesthetic practice.  

We are particularly interested in oil fictions in the colonial and postcolonial contexts, and we invite original essays that focus on the following topics and beyond:

1.      The Globalization of oil: Petrofiction as world literature/film

2.      Petrocapitalism and modernity in 20th century literature/film

3.      Petroleum, colonialism and postcolonial literature/film

4.      Oil and indigenous literature/film

5.      Orientalism and the Middle East in Petrofiction

6.      Gender, environment and the Thermocene epoch

7.      Migration, precarious labour and Petro-diaspora

8.      War, petropolitics and literature

9.      Testimonies of the oil encounter:  petroculture through memoirs, journals, interviews  

Please send abstracts to Stacey Balkan & Swaralipi Nandi at by 15 December 2017.  Completed drafts will be due 30 April 2018.