Graeme Macdonald

University of Warwick

“The New Oil Reality”, or Petroleum’s Returning Monsters

Despite unprecedented acknowledgement of the deleterious effects and predicted outcomes of ongoing carbonization, we remain in an age of enduring oil, in both senses of that verb. Industry insists on the necessity of maintaining global supply and opening new extractive frontiers; an insistence strategically mediated in the vocabulary and protocols of “realism” – in discourse and method. The emergence of petroculture as a trans-disciplinary critical practice has offered a counter-perspective to this industry-sponsored “realism,” partly by demonstrating its somewhat paradoxical associations with speculative cultural and economic forms and “fictive” forecasting. This paper will tease out the terms of this constitutive and epistemological struggle over oil’s projected future, specifically by using recent media and cultural representations from the maturing fields of the North Sea as a means to think through the future determinations of late petroleum and its anticipated warming effects. These cultural forms, I shall argue, are exemplars of the uses and abuses of realism as an aesthetic form and documentary method for processing climate crisis. I hope to show how their “weird” realism (or what has also been called “irrealism”) might help to open out a debate on the post-generic quality of speculative cultural forms. Despite their estranging intent, these retain a “realist” orientation, and do so despite emergent reservations about the exhaustion of non-realist approaches.

Dr. Graeme Macdonald recently edited a new edition of John McGrath’s play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil (2015) and is currently preparing a monograph, Petrofiction: Oil and World Literature. He is a member of WreC (Warwick Research Collective), whose members work on new ways to think about World Literature/Literature in the World. They have published a co-written monograph on Peripheral Modernism and World Literature: Combined and Uneven Development: Toward a New Theory of World Literature (Liverpool University Press, 2015). He is at present Co-Investigator on the RSE Research Network, Connecting with a Low Carbon Scotland (2016-18).