The Petro-Noir: Ecological Anxiety and Noir Subjectivity in True Detective and Oil on Water

Henry Bishop

Both noir anxiety and ecological awareness are responses to the breakdown of illusory boundaries between the subjective individual and the exterior world. Suzy Gordon defines noir anxiety as an ‘affective marker of a temporal disjuncture in which the distinction between inner and outer is held in suspense’, while Timothy Morton describes ecological anxiety as how one experiences oneself ‘as a thing’ undistinguished ‘from other entities’.[1] While ecological anxieties are outside the field of effects for films noir of the forties and fifties and the eighties’ neo-noirs, postmodern interpretations of noir such as Nic Pizzolatto’s first season of True Detective (2014) and Helon Habila’s novel Oil on Water (2010) can be considered “petro-noirs” in their presentation of noir anxiety possessive of a distinct ecological dimension.[2] I use the prefix “petro” because it is the ecological peculiarity of the ‘oil frontiers’, to borrow Michael Watts’ term, each…

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