Skip to main content
Courses / Modules / ENGL3108 Burning Worlds, Drowning Worlds: Oil Cultures, Climate Crisis, and Traumatic Desires in World Literatures

Burning Worlds, Drowning Worlds: Oil Cultures, Climate Crisis, and Traumatic Desires in World Literatures

When you'll study it
Semester 2
CATS points
ECTS points
Level 6
Module lead
Alireza Fakhrkonandeh
Academic year

Module overview

We keep being barraged with a deluge of unnerving news - about environmental crisis, multi-level pollution, exceeding desertification and inundation of centuries-long places of human habitation, floods, forest fires, relentless rise in sea-level due to the melting of Arctic ice-sheets, explosion of offshore oil-drilling sites, and oil spills. As both thinkers and creative writers have argued, it is necessary to recognize that these manifold crises are not only human-made (Anthropocene), but also made by exploitative ways of treating nature and extracting raw materials from it (Capitalocene). Whilst there has been a surge of interest in the representations of environmental issues in contemporary literary studies, there has ironically been a glaring dearth of attention to energy resources. In this regard, oil occupies a unique position.

Oil has not only been described with epithets as diverse as ‘ur-commodity’, ‘black gold’, ‘devil’s excrement’, ‘a prize from a fairyland’, ‘capitalism’s lifeblood’, and a viscous, nonlocal, and uncanny ‘hyper-object’. Oil has been referred to as ‘the machine of destiny’ and ‘the mediator of futurity’; that is, ‘a vanishing mediator between industrialism and family life’, and ‘a singular force capable of producing singular effects—oil wars, oil addiction, and oil states’ and palpable cultural habits, identities, and affects. Oil has also been referred to as ‘the most powerful fuel and versatile substance ever discovered’. The long twentieth century has, accordingly, been defined as ‘the century of oil’.

Accordingly, situating itself at the intersection of energy humanities, environmental humanities and world literatures, this module takes oil (and its social-cultural, ecological and political-economic dimensions) as presented in works of world literatures as its focal point. This module also dedicates attention to other energy forms such as coal, gas, the solar, hydrological (water) and nuclear.