Narrating the Anthropocene: Magical Realism as Mimesis


  • Sara Buekens Ghent University



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.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Sara Buekens, Ghent University

Sara Buekens holds a PhD in French literature (supervisor Pierre Schoentjes, Ghent University, 2020). She has published in several journals (Roman 20-50, Revue critique de fixxion française contemporaine, French Studies in Southern Africa, Études littéraires, Elfe XX-XXI, Phantasia). She has recently published Émergence d'une littérature environnementale (Droz, 2020) and co-edited collective volumes on the literary representation of animals (Animal et animalité. Stratégies de représentation dans les littératures d'expression française, with Julien Defraeye, Classiques Garnier, 2022) and on ecopoetics (L'Horizon écologique des fictions contemporaines, with Riccardo Barontini and Pierre Schoentjes, Droz, 2022). She is the editor-in-chief of the Revue critique de fixxion française contemporaine. Her postdoctoral research (Ghent University /University of Idaho) focuses on the representation of nature and environmental problems in African Francophone literature (Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, Indian Ocean).





The Postcolonial Nonhuman