Dr. Georgiana Banita (Universität Bamberg): "Underground Environments and the Texas Oil Gothic"

11.07.2012, 16:15 Uhr, MS12/00.09

This talk examines Texas oil fiction within the Gothic tradition and more broadly at the confluence of modernism and industrialization, in order to tease out the importance of Texas oil chronicles for a more encompassing vision of how petroleum aesthetics have inflected American literature from the first wildcat wells to peak oil and after. I argue that narratives of energy expenditure and toxic pollution on the iconic Texas oil fields reveal to what extent petroleum aesthetics usefully supplement key elements of both the Gothic tradition in American literature and the emerging paradigms of ecocriticism. Especially the fiction of the remarkable if little-known Texas writer William Goyen captures the unique spirit of an era at once foundational and in transition—the oil boom of the early twentieth century up to the global oil crisis, an event that Goyen patently ignores in favor of a radically optimistic story of the Texas Panhandle as a realm of profligate consumption. I unpack this Gothic concept through the lens of George Bataille’s theoretical articulation of expenditure (non-utilitarian squandering) as fundamental to our understanding of a general economy in which economic forces cannot be disentangled from the sexual, artistic, environmental, and religious determinants of social life. Goyen’s isolationist vision of endlessly gurgling Texas wells was rendered obsolete by the global pressure and diminished expectations of the 1970s, yet his remains the most enduring (and seductive) statement on the imponderables of oil, its rapture and magic interweaving and echoing with the American subconscious.

Dr. Georgiana Banita is assistant professor in the Department of Literature and Media, University of Bamberg, and Associate Fellow of the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney. Her first book Plotting Justice: Narrative Ethics and Literary Culture after 9/11 will be published by University of Nebraska Press in October 2012. The current research project from which this talk is derived investigates the cultural history of petroleum in the United States from a transnational perspective. Other research interests include intersections between visual media and literary forms, transnational and diasporic American studies, Canadian literature, Gothic environments, and the noir genre.