Offshore Mysteries, Narrative Infrastructure: Oil, Noir, and the World-Ocean

Harry Pitt Scott
2020 Humanities  
Situated within debates of world literature, petrocultures, and the blue humanities, this article provides a methodological approach to interpreting genre, energy forms, and world-literature. This relies on Dominic Boyer's concept of 'energopolitics' (adapted from Foucault's biopolitics), which considers the codependence of political power, electricity, fuel and energy infrastructure. Echoing Fredric Jameson (1981) and Patricia Yaeger (2011), the article argues that looking for a text's
more » ... or a text's 'energopolitical unconscious' is a means of discerning the way energopolitics and energy are encoded in world-literary plot, form, and genre. Then, it turns to a comparative reading of two novels, Carlos Fuentes's The Hydra Head (1978) and Ian Rankin's Black & Blue (1997), to argue that such novels provide an understanding of relationships between world-literary genre, forms of energy, and the world-oceanic regime of the offshore. The offshore is a juridical-spatial regime that circumvents nation-state regulation through extraterritorial ownership practices. It is a political and infrastructural power over the oceanic flows of capital and energy, to produce a spatial environment that exceeds the juridical boundaries of nation-states. Thus, if the world-ocean is the space upon which fossil capital depends for its realisation, the offshore is the legal form of fossil capital in the world-ocean. Finally, the article argues that noir mysteries are the genre of the offshore, as it is a genre particularly capable of indexing its social tensions. Noir's settings and atmospheres are intimately connected with petromodernity's infrastructure: hotels, highways, flickering streetlights and eerie hinterlands, ports and warehouses; the mystery is an excellent formal device, providing both narratorial motivation and a code for traversing imagined territories and detecting their secrets. At the same time, noir's generic investment in investigations of legality and power—its 'legal grammar'—makes it a useful stage through which to pursue questions of sovereignty, ocean-space, territory, and juridical forms.
doi:10.3390/h9030071 fatcat:dn7neqxsgzfwpegy6r5vmlceae