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Unsustainable Oil

Facts, Counterfacts and Fictions

Jon Gordon

Canadian Studies, Literary Criticism and Theory

Published: January 2016
ISBN: 9781772120363
Pages: 288 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 12

"‘Sustainable development’ is, for government and industry at least, primarily a way of turning trees into lumber, tar into oil, and critique into consent; a way to defend the status quo of growth at any cost." —from the Introduction

Bitumen extraction is the lifeblood of Alberta, and there are many stories about the boom-and-bust economy. But what does literature have to say about the "progress" of petroculture? Jon Gordon maps out a new field of study by examining the relationship between culture and energy extraction, moving towards nuance and away from the entrenched rhetorical positions that currently dominate discussion. His examination of theoretical, political, and environmental issues in this groundbreaking book contribute to our understanding of the culture and the ethics of energy production within the Canadian context. Unsustainable Oil offers readers a chance to consider literature’s potential in confronting the hegemony of the oil and gas industry, and will be particularly well-received by scholars and students of Cultural Studies, Literature, Ecocriticism, Energy Humanities, and Indigenous Studies.

Jon Gordon teaches writing studies at the University of Alberta, where he won the William Hardy Alexander Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (2012), and at Athabasca University. He has also taught at the University of Western Ontario, Maskwacis Cultural College, and at The King’s University

[Gordon] proposes that we turn to works of literature (plays, poetry, short stories) as a means of re-imagining the narratives that we tell ourselves about our embeddedness in petroculture.... [He demonstrates] that literature performs not only a necessary diagnostic function (namely, to articulate the environmental and social costs of our dependence on bitumen), but also a vital prognostic function, through which we can begin to restore our understanding of the intimate relations between humans and their environment, and our hope for a post-bitumen future.

– Lucia Lorenzi, Canadian Literature

Gordon’s agenda is to short-circuit the extremely polarized debate between team oil and team environment by bringing into play not facts and counterfacts alone but the power of narrative, storytelling, theatre, theory, even poetry.... The book is theoretically astute, Gordon’s writing throughout is crystal clear and elegant, and his analysis of texts insightful: this book is an exhilarating and beautiful read.

– Pamela Banting, The Goose

Unsustainable Oil deserves to be read alongside other excoriations of Alberta's great speculative game, such as Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent (2008) by Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, and studies in the emergent field of petrocriticism, such as Stephanie LeMenager's Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century (2014). Oil, with its climate consequences, is a defining environmental concern of our age: it has found an impassioned critic in Jon Gordon.

– Nicholas Bradley, Western American Literature