Title, Author & Summary


Ideas of the Decade

May 27, 2014


Michael Rubenstein

Amitav Ghosh coined the term “petrofiction” as the title of his review of Abdelraman Munif’s quintet of novels Cities of Salt in the March 1992 issue of The New Republic. There Ghosh pointed out just how few novels about the “Oil Encounter” between the United States and the Middle East had up until then ever been written. Munif’s work was, in Ghosh’s view, the exception proving the rule that “the history of oil is a matter of embarrassment verging on the unspeakable, the pornographic.” But if in 1992 Ghosh meant by petrofiction simply a fiction directly concerned with the oil industry, then, in a 2012 issue of the American Book Review with a titular focus on “petrofiction,” Imre Szeman argued that the term ought to be construed far more capaciously – and controversially – as a grand new periodizing gesture.

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