"Tend the rusted steel like a shepherd": Petropoetics of oil work in Canada

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Unrau, Melanie
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This dissertation is a literary study of poetry written by oil workers in Canada, which considers poetry alongside and as theorizations about petromodernity, energy transition, and decolonization. The introduction makes a case for the study of petropoetics in the energy humanities. Petropoetics refers to poetry about oil, to any kind of artistic production in the contexts of the Canadian petrostate and the global economy and cultures of oil, and to a broader project of world-making in collaboration with oil and fossil fuels. Following Patricia Yaeger’s claim that it is possible to read for the energy unconscious of any text, the first chapter considers the trails of modernization and wilderness that oil sands engineer S.C. Ells celebrates in Northland Trails (1938; 1956), as well as the contradictions between the trails that are repressed and unspoken in Ells’s poetics. The second chapter draws on Michel Pêcheux’s theory of disidentification and José Esteban Muñoz’s theory of disidentificatory performativity to read Peter Christensen’s Rig Talk (1981) and Mathew Henderson’s The Lease (2012) as disidentifications with the toxic identity reserved for oil workers in the Canadian petrostate. The third chapter considers Dymphny Dronyk’s collection Contrary Infatuations (2007) as an affective map and theorization of bad love and reproductive labour in petromodernity. The fourth chapter takes Lesley Battler’s and Naden Parkin’s use of the metaphor of the energy slave in their poetry collections Endangered Hydrocarbons (2015) and A Relationship with Truth (2014) as critiques and elaborations of Andrew Nikiforuk’s use of the metaphor in The Energy of Slaves (2012). In response to the idea that support for the oil industry is support for oil workers, the conclusion asks who we are fighting when we fight climate change and proposes that it is time to rethink solidarity, class politics, decolonization, and the good life in order to make energy transition good for everyone, including oil workers.
Petrocultures, Energy humanities, Canadian literature, Canadian poetry, Poetry and poetics, S.C. Ells, Peter Christensen, Mathew Henderson, Dymphny Dronyk, Lesley Battler, Naden Parkin, Oil work, Work literature