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The Empire Bites Back: Literary Cannibalism in the ‘Extractive Zone’

(C) Karen Siegel

My thesis, entitled The Empire Bites Back: Literary Cannibalism in the ‘Extractive Zone’, focused on Environmental Latin American studies. The primary goal of my thesis was to theorise ‘literary cannibalism’ through world-ecology and historical materialism, in order to consider past, present, and future issues related to the Caribbean and Latin America’s socio-political and economic developments and environmental challenges and their representation in cultural productions. By looking at how these cultural productions and material histories consider colonial, (neo)-imperial and neo-liberal practices and their role in the precipitation and exacerbation of climate change in this region.

Our current climate crisis is also a broader crisis of social inequality. It stems from material histories and developments, which themselves find their origins in the development of the capitalist system through colonial expansion. My doctoral research seeks to find ways to identify how these issues are exposed in specific cultural productions emerging from former colonies. My thesis took the form of a comparative study focusing on works produced in countries on the American continent. This is because the transatlantic connections between these places, their shared history of colonialism and (neo-)imperialism, socio-economic, environmental and political developments, and their shared linguistic backgrounds, provide a basis on which to build a new literary methodological approach. In my project, I weave together rewriting practices and the cannibalism metaphor and propose ‘literary cannibalism’ as a new way of grasping the objective thrust of these literary rewritings.

Cannibalism is a fantasy projection erected on the prior concept of peoples from former colonies as savages. My thesis proposed that it would make better sense to describe as ‘cannibalistic’ the ‘proto-capitalist’ impulse behind mercantilism and colonial ventures, still present in contemporary neo-imperial practices of extractivism. I established literary cannibalism as a decolonial mode of writing. The aim of my research was to identify how rewritings the ‘western literary canon’ illuminated the history of extractive capitalism. My thesis was divided into two sections. Part one focused on the development of this new methodological approach by engaging primarily with theories emerging from former colonies. Part two undertook a systematic analysis of case studies using this methodology. I analyse a wide corpus of literary texts chosen from spaces that Macarena Gómez-Barris calls ‘Extraction Zones’. These spaces also connect through the tracing of the movements of the Atlantic Trade route and its connections. These literary texts were all examined in their original contexts and languages: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

I am now working on further developing ideas that emerged during my doctoral research on trans-disciplinary approaches to climate change communication, material histories, energy humanities and Latin American studies.

Giulia Champion

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