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The Disposition of NatureEnvironmental Crisis and World Literature$
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Jennifer Wenzel

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780823286782

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823286782.001.0001

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Hijacking the Imagination: How to Tell the Story of the Niger Delta

Hijacking the Imagination: How to Tell the Story of the Niger Delta

(p.81) Chapter 2 Hijacking the Imagination: How to Tell the Story of the Niger Delta
The Disposition of Nature

Jennifer Wenzel

Fordham University Press

This chapter examines texts about the Niger Delta in several genres (Ogaga Ifowodo’s poem The Oil Lamp; fiction by Uwem Akpan, Helon Habila, and Ben Okri; the photo-essay anthology Curse of the Black Gold; Sandy Cioffi’s film Sweet Crude). Juxtaposing political ecology’s analysis of natural resource conflicts with Benedict Anderson’s notion of imagined communities, the chapter argues that the relationships among petroleum extraction, literary production, and national imagining in Nigeria are better described as un-imagining, a corollary of underdevelopment as a transitive process of unmaking. Postcolonial citizenship entails a struggle over key questions: What is the state for? To whom do natural resources belong? Oil hijacks the imagination, promising wealth without work, progress without the passage of time. This dynamic manifests as petro-magic-realism, a literary variant of the resource curse hypothesis that blames the ills of resource extraction on the substance rather than social relations. The execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995 galvanized world attention on the Nigerian petro-state; the subsequent explosion of violence in the Niger Delta can be read as a perverse realization of some of his demands for ethnic autonomy and resource control.

Keywords:   Curse of the Black Gold, imagined community, Niger Delta, The Oil Lamp, petro-magic, political ecology, postcolonial citizenship, resource curse, Ken Saro-Wiwa, un-imagining

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