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Dr Philip Aghoghovwia

​​Home country: Nigeria

Year of enrolment: 2011

Graduation date: April 2014

Department:  English

Supervisor: Prof Louise Green

Co-Supervisor: Dr Nwabisa Bangeni

Dissertation title: Ecocriticism and the oil encounter: readings from the Niger Delta


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.

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