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EN2F9/EN3F9 - Commodity Fictions: World Literature and World-Ecology

This module is not currently running.

The general course outline and assessment pattern will remain the same, but the syllabus may change so please don't purchase any books yet.

Course Convenor: Dr. Michael Niblett
Course Instructor (2020-21): Dr. Jonathan SkinnerLink opens in a new window

*NOTE: for the most up-to-date information on this module (2020-21) please consult the Moodle PageLink opens in a new window.*


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 the following:

Intermediate year: (100% assessed) 2 x 3,000 word essays (80% of final mark) + 1 x portfolio of 150 word weekly responses to Moodle Discussion Forum (20% of final mark)

(100% assessed) 2 x 4,000 word essays (80% of final mark) + 1 x portfolio of 250 word weekly responses to Moodle Discussion forum (20% of final mark)

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.

2020/21 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 ReadingLink opens in a new window

*** 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, I is a long memoried woman (1983)
Donna Haraway, "Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making KinLink opens in a new window" (2015)
Sophie Sapp Moore et al., "Plantation LegaciesLink opens in a new window" (2019)

Selected secondary reading:
Jason Moore, “Madeira, Sugar, and the Conquest of Nature, I and II” (2010)
Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power (1985)
Steven Topik et al., From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500-2000 (2006)
Walter Johnson, 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
Olive Senior, Selections from Gardening in the Tropics (1994)

Selected secondary reading:
Harriet Friedmann, “What on earth is the modern world-system? Foodgetting and Territory in the Modern Era and Beyond?” (2000)
Jordan Stouck, Gardening in the diaspora: Place and identity in Olive Senior’s poetry (2005)

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
Eduardo Galeano, Selections from Open Veins of Latin America (1971)
Roberto Schwarz, Selections from Two Girls and Other Essays (2012)

Week 8 
Jorge Amado, The Violent Land (1943)***

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
Graciliano Ramos, São Bernardo (1934)***

Selected secondary reading:
Fred Ellison, Brazil’s New Novel (1954)
Gilberto Freyre, Selections from The Masters and the Slaves (1933)

Week 10
Patrice Galvao, Industrial Park (1933)***

Selected secondary reading:
Laura M. Kanost, "Body Politics in Patrícia Galvão's Parque industrial" (2006)

Term 2 Coal, Capital, Climate, Oil

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

Week 1 ReadingsLink opens in a new window

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
Rhys Davies, "The Pits are on the Top" (1942) and "Nightgown" (1942)
Gwyn Thomas, "Oscar" (1946)

Selected Secondary Reading
Glyn Jones, The Dragon Has Two Tongues (1968)
Alexandra Jones “‘Her body [was] like a hard-worked machine’: Women’s Work and Disability in Coalfields Literature, 1880-1950" (2018)
Raymond Williams, Who Speaks for Wales? (2003)

Week 5

Tony Harrison, V (1985)

Selected secondary reading:
David Thomas, "The Canary in the Coal Mine: Tony Harrison and the Poetics of Coal, Climate, and Capital"
Seamus Milne, The Enemy Within (1994)
Alice Mah, Industrial Ruination, Community And Place: Landscapes And Legacies Of Urban Decline (2012)

Week 6 Reading Week

Week 7
Matt Huber, Selections from Lifeblood (2013)
Ross Barrett and Daniel Worden (eds.), Selections from Oil Culture (2014)

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

Rita Indiana, Tentacle (2015)***

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)