Narrating the Anthropocene: Magical Realism as Mimesis
Keywords:oil extraction, magical realism, African literature
In this paper, I will argue that the literary mode of magical realism proves particularly apt to reflect the indeterminacies, instabilities, and ambiguities that mark the current climatic situation, particularly in the context of oil extraction in West Africa, emphasizing the unexpected and often invisible character of ecological problems and granting a particular agency to natural elements as they respond to harmful human activities. Based on a reading of Bessora's Petroleum (2004) and Helon Habila's Oil on Water (2010), which are set in the context of oil extraction in Gabon and the Niger Delta respectively, I will show that magical realism, by its transgression of traditional antinomies and various ontological levels, and by its presentation of an inherently hybrid universe, allows us to see the invisible and complex interrelationships of the different factors at the origin of the environmental crisis, such as capitalism and the global trade in natural resources. Moreover, this literary mode allows for the attribution of direct agency to the natural world as well as to oil, without intermediary, through the use of personification and active verbs. The result is an essentially hybrid universe, which evokes the more-than-human rhythms of landscapes and elements, where the agentivity of an environment that is both artificial and natural not only adds to the confusion of the characters but also visualizes the harm done to nature.
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