Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Situated within a consensus in petroculture studies about the absence of oil in American novels, which dates back to Amitav Ghosh’s 1992 article “Petrofiction,” my dissertation aims to reexamine oil’s literary blockages as well as articulations in American fiction. By analysis of selected texts from the 1970s to the present, in which our oil ontologies are either significantly articulated or manifestly suppressed, I hope to expand the archive of petrofiction and thus to redefine the genre in a way that moves beyond Ghosh’s too restricted definition. A defining feature of petrofiction is what I call the “oil unconscious”, which stresses both a narrative’s hidden relation to the material cultural logic of oil and the ways in which the narrative eventually falls short of enunciating a fully politicized anti-oil vision. In other words, the oil unconscious is at once an enabling force that brings some of our implicit relations to oil into view and a disabling one that implicates limitations and restrictions of various sorts. Oil unconscious as a hallmark of petrofiction informs my reading methods that pay special attention to the constitutive elements of the oil regime as well as certain critical moments in oil history that might reveal a parallel literary trajectory of petrofiction. As such, I argue that oil has gained increasing prominence in American fiction in the time period of this study, although its increased visibility goes hand in hand with new mechanisms of cultural concealment and suppression that block viable imaginations of alternatives. Ultimately, by attending to both the potentials and limitations of oil’s fictional representations, this study of American petrofiction aims to help our search for cultural forms that are better positioned to confront our perennial lack of awareness and to bring possible glimpses of breakthrough beyond it.
Chair and Committee
J. D. Brown, William Maxwell, Lynne Tatlock, Anca Parvulescu,
Chen, Wenjia, "Petrofiction in America: From the 1970s to the Present" (2021). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2403.
Available for download on Thursday, May 21, 2026