Perpetual renewal: the fiction of decommissioning

What do we mean when we say and think "after oil"? In this talk Graeme Macdonald, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Warwick (UK), will examine a range of literary and artistic examples constituting a significant expression of petroculture: the post-oil imaginary.

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The retired Ekofisk tank. Photo: Kjetil Alsvik/ConocoPhillips

A fundamental feature of first wave research in the academic and creative field of Petrocultures was the effort to make oil and its infrastructures visible and salient objects of study for scholars across the Humanities. This work—still ongoing—has identified and produced a wide range of artistic and cultural imaginaries of oil, stretching across genres, territories and temporalities. Subsequent inquiry asked how to effectively categorise these multiple registrations of petromodernity; a world-systemic phenomenon with planetary impacts that manifests in many local forms and styles. In cultural genres such as literature, this has generated questions of comparative perspective, interpretive method and environmental commitment.

A sustained focus on petroaesthetics is apparent in all of this, and subject to considerable debate; identified as working for and in favour of oil as much as offering a sustained and valuable critique of its operations and the lifeworld it reproduces. This debate leverages the stress on oil’s environmental dimensions in an age of climate anxiety. Consistent pressure is now exerted on the ends—meaning the objectives as well as the limits and transitions—of petroculture as an academic field and aesthetic phenomenon within the wider rubrics of the Energy Humanities.

This talk will focus on those ends or ‘afters’ of oil by examining a range of literary and artistic examples constituting a significant expression of petroculture: the post-oil imaginary. Petrofictions from the North Sea and beyond demonstrate how an “After Oil” sensibility is intrinsic to all oil culture and particularly pronounced in a time of decommissioning. In short: what do we mean when we say and think “after oil” and how might a focus on petroaesthetics help (or hinder) that process?

Graeme Macdonald is Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick, UK. He teaches and writes on petrofiction, petroculture and the Energy Humanities. He is editor of the Routledge Handbook of Energy Humanities (2022). Recently edited journal collections include Powering the Future: Energy Resources in Science Fiction and Fantasy (OLH 2019) and Environment, Ecology and ‘Nature’ in 21st Century Scottish Literature (Humanities 2021) and Food Futures (Science Fiction Studies, 2022). He edited a recent edition of John McGrath’s play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil (2015). A member of the Petrocultures Research Group, he is also contributor to After Oil (2016) and Solarities (2022). He was recently CI on the Royal Society of Edinburgh Humanities Research Network, Connecting with a low carbon Scotland and is presently CI on the FORMAS funded international research project Climaginaries: narrating socio-cultural transitions to a post-fossil society. He is co-author, with the WReC collective, of Combined and Uneven Development: Toward a New Theory of World Literature (2015).

This open lecture is an integrated part of the workshop Petrocultures Across Regions: a Comparative Perspective, organised by the OSEH collaboratory Critical Petroaesthetics. 

Tags: Energy, Oil, Environmental Humanities, World literature
Published May 20, 2022 5:21 PM - Last modified June 9, 2022 9:09 PM