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EN370 - Commodity Fictions: World Literature and World-Ecology

Course Convenor: Dr. Michael Niblett

This module is a Pathway Approved Option for the World and Comparative Literature and Theory Pathway. It is also a Distributional Requirement option for the English Pathway and an option for the other pathways.


Tuesday 12:00 - 1:30


Commodity Fictions
aims to introduce students to new approaches in world literature and environmental criticism through the analysis of fiction and poetry from the early twentieth century to the present. The course explores how literary texts from postcolonial or ‘peripheral’ locations have responded to the processes of environment-making associated with the movements of various commodity frontiers (including sugar, cocoa, coal, and oil). It will encourage students to develop an understanding of how the manifold effects of these processes – from soil erosion and climate change to the accumulation of waste and ‘surplus’ populations – can shape both the content and form of literary work.

Objectives and Outcomes
The module is designed to enhance students’ understanding of recent developments in the fields of environmental criticism, postcolonial studies, and world literature. It will introduce students to new ways of reading a range of texts from across the globe, encouraging them to re-evaluate how they conceptualize ‘ecology’ and what they look for when asked to think ‘eco-critically’ about literature. The module will enable students to develop an understanding of literary responses to processes of environmental change in specific geo-political contexts (e.g., the Caribbean, West Africa, Brazil). It will allow them to track likenesses (and likenesses of the unlike) in the representation or registration of ecological crises. Students will become familiar with the possibilities offered by new rubrics in ecological thought (commodity frontiers, energy regimes, waste frontiers, food regimes, and so on) for thinking comparatively about texts.

Assessment is by 2 x 5000 word essays

Set Texts
Texts students are required to obtain for themselves are marked *** below. Other readings will be provided in advance as handouts or e-copies.

2018/19 Syllabus

Term 1 Fictions and Frontiers: The Making of the Modern World-Ecology

Week 1 Introduction: World Literature and World-Ecology
Patricia Yaeger, “Editor’s Column: Literature in the Age of Wood, Tallow, Coal …” PMLA 126.2 (2011)
Jason Moore, selections from Capitalism in the Web of Life (2015)
Sylvia Wynter, “Novel and History, Plot and Plantation” (1971)

Week 1 Reading

*** The reading for week 1 is accessible via the link above.If possible, do try and look over this material prior to the first seminar ***

Week 2
Grace Nichols, Selections from I is a long memoried woman (1983) 
David Dabydeen, Selections from Slave Song (1984)

Selected secondary reading:
Jason Moore, “Madeira, Sugar, and the Conquest of Nature, I and II” (2010)
Sidney Mintz, selections from Sweetness and Power (1985)
Steven Topik et al., introduction and selections from From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500-2000 (2006)
Walter Johnson, selections from River of Dark Dreams

Week 3
Marlon James, The Book of Night Women (2009)***

Selected secondary reading:
Monique Allewaert, Ariel’s Ecology: Plantations, Personhood, and Colonialism in the American Tropics (2013)
David Watts, The West Indies: Patterns of Development, Culture, and Environmental Change (1987)

Week 4
Erna Brodber, Myal (1988)***

Selected secondary reading:
Harriet Friedmann, “What on earth is the modern world-system? Foodgetting and Territory in the Modern Era and Beyond?” (2000)
Kerstin Oloff, “Greening the Zombie” (2012)

Week 5
Shani Mootoo, Valmiki's Daughter (2008)***

Selected secondary reading:
Joy Mahabir and Mariam Pirbhai, Critical Perspectives on Indo-Caribbean Women's Literature (2012)
Valerie Loichot, The Tropics Bite Back (2013)

Week 6 Reading Week

Week 7
Jorge Amado, The Violent Land (1943)***

Selected secondary reading:
Fred Ellison, Brazil’s New Novel (1954)
Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America (1971)

Week 8
Adonias Filho, Memories of Lazarus (1952)***

Selected secondary reading:
Durval Muniz de Albuquerque, The Invention of the Brazilian Northeast (2014)
Leitner, et al. “Trinidad, Brazil, and Ghana: Three Melting Moments in the History of Cocoa” (2004)

Week 9
Selections from Joao Cabral de Melo Neto, Selected Poetry, 1937-1990

Selected secondary reading:
Gilberto Freyre, The Masters and the Slaves (1933)

Week 10
Patricia Melo, Inferno (2000)***
Meirelles and Lund (dirs.), City of God (film, 2002)

Selected secondary reading:
Roberto Schwarz, “City of God” (2001)
Lowe and Sharpe, “Cityscapes of Rio and Bahia: Capturing the ‘Enchanted Soul of the Streets’” (2011)

Term 2 Coal, Capital, Climate, Oil

Week 1
Selections from Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital (2015)
Selections from Matt Huber, Lifeblood (2013)
Graeme MacDonald, “Research Note: The Resources of Fiction” (2013)
Fredrick Buell, "A Short History of Oil Cultures"

Week 2

Ellen Wilkinson, Clash (1929)***

Selected secondary reading:
Charles Ferrall and Dougal McNeill, Writing the 1926 General Strike
Pamela Fox, Class Fictions: Shame and Resistance in the British Working-Class Novel, 1890-1945

Week 3

Lewis Jones, Cwmardy (1937)***

Selected secondary reading:
Raymond Williams, “The Welsh Industrial Novel” (1979)
Andy Croft, Red Letter Days (1990)

Week 4
Idris Davies, "Gwalia Deserta" (1938) and "The Angry Summer: A Poem of 1926" (1943)
Charlotte Williams, extracts from Sugar and Slate (2002)

Selected Secondary Reading
Glyn Jones, The Dragon Has Two Tongues (1968)
Raymond Williams, Who Speaks for Wales? (2003)

Week 5
Benjamin Myers, Pig Iron (2012)***

Selected secondary reading:
Seamus Milne, The Enemy Within (1994)
Alice Mah, Industrial Ruination, Community And Place: Landscapes And Legacies Of Urban Decline (2012)
Liu Qingbang, “The One Who Picks Flowers” and “Pigeon” (2015)

Week 6 Reading Week

Week 7
Nicola Barker, Behindlings (2001)***

Selected secondary reading:
Len Platt, "'Eating Gull since Friday' -- Estuary Grotesque, Seaside Noir" (2017)
Dr. Feelgood, "Down by the Jetty Blues" Down by the Jetty Blues

Week 8
Ken Saro-Wiwa, selections from A Forest of Flowers (1986)
Ogaga Ifowodo, The Oil Lamp (2005)

Selected secondary reading:
Michael Watts, State, Oil and Agriculture in Nigeria (1987)
Nancy Peluso and Michael Watts, Violent Environments (2001)
Byron Caminero-Santangelo, Different Shades of Green: African Literature, Environmental Justice, and Political Ecology (2014)

Week 9
Ben Okri, "Stars of the New Curfew", from Stars of the New Curfew (1988)
Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, "Spider the Artist" (2008)
Pauline Melville, “The Sparkling Bitch”, from The Migration of Ghosts (1998)
China Mieville, "Covehithe" (2011)

Selected secondary reading:
Michael Taussig, The Devil and Commodity Fetishism (1980)
Andrew Apter, The Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria (2005)
Jennifer Wenzel, “Petro-magic-realism: toward a political ecology of Nigerian literature” (2006)

Week 10
Nalo Hopkinson, The New Moon's Arms (2007)***

Selected secondary reading:
Ytasha Womak, Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture (2013)
Nalo Hopkinson (ed.), Whispers from the cotton tree root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction (2000)