Giulia Champion

‘The River Has Been Put on Tap’: Decolonising Water and Historiography in V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River (1979) and Helon Habila’s Oil on Water (2011)

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This paper focuses on the material and intellectual commodification and de-commodification of water in V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River(1979) and Helon Habila’s Oil on Water (2011). In both novels, waterways’ labour is contrasted to the role they play as repositories of erased histories. In particular, in juxtaposing these works to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902), which appears as an intertext within both, this paper argues that the novels provide counter-narratives of water domestication. For this purpose, this article will consider the role of the intertextual relation between these two novels and Conrad’s novella, before focusing on the central argument: that material and intellectual decolonisation of water and water depictions play a crucial role in illuminating imperial and colonial relations of extinction to our current ecological crises. This is critical in considering that while this emergency may seem ‘recent’ to some, others, notably those from formerly colonised spaces, have been at the forefront of these environmental apocalypses


  • blue humanities
  • energy humanities
  • world-ecology
  • history
  • postcolonial literature
  • decolonisation
  • intertextuality
  • Helon Habila
  • VS Naipaul
  • Joseph Conrad


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