3-2 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/10.17742/IMAGE.sightoil.3-2.13 | Kaposy PDF


Tide of Extinction

Negarestani, Reza. Cyclono­pe­dia: Com­plic­i­ty with Anony­mous Mate­ri­als. Mel­bourne: Re​.Press, 2008. 244pp.

Review by Tim Kaposy

The cat­e­go­ry of nar­ra­tive is wide­ly under­stood as affirm­ing the world’s appear­ances, in part, by giv­ing them coher­ence with a log­i­cal order and a com­mu­ni­ca­ble form. Though rad­i­cal exper­i­men­ta­tion is stan­dard in all nar­ra­tive forms, stan­dard nar­ra­tives remain a lin­guis­tic and cul­tur­al cat­e­go­ry tied to acts of mem­o­ry, inti­mate self-knowl­edge and the pre­text for judi­cious His­to­ry. Nar­ra­tive the­o­rists from Aris­to­tle to Clarice Lispec­tor have argued that with­out nar­ra­tive one ceas­es to be human.

Arche­ol­o­gist Hamid Parsani, the cen­tral char­ac­ter of Reza Negarestani’s genre-defy­ing text Cyclono­pe­dia, nar­rates his find­ings with an alter­na­tive pur­pose in mind​.In Parsani’s stud­ies of the Cross of Akht, Per­sian dynas­tic coins, the myth of Gog-Magog, Wah­habism, and Mid­dle East­ern lan­guages, he queries how being coher­ent­ly human is made pos­si­ble by the geopol­i­tics of oil. “What­ev­er Parsani encoun­ters,” writes Negarestani, “is imme­di­ate­ly traced back to only one thing, Petro­le­um” (42). Parsani’s idée fixe fis­sures its way through all he encoun­ters in the Mid­dle East. His obses­sion builds to a notion that nar­ra­tive allows for a bet­ter under­stand­ing of human­i­ty, but only inso­far as it helps one antic­i­pate the demise of the species (i.e., relics yield unheed­ed lessons). With­out nar­ra­tive one is prone to affirm appear­ances, and most appear­ances today present one with the idea that sus­tain­abil­i­ty, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and redemp­tion are always col­lec­tive­ly attain­able. Parsani makes a valu­able counter claim that “oil is…a vehi­cle of epic nar­ra­tives,” (69) and it is cru­cial to know the vehi­cles of nar­ra­tive, rather than to spec­u­late on how they might be tran­scend­ed. Petro­le­um, too, is a rel­ic with much to say about humanity’s epic tra­jec­to­ry.

As ani­mist as this may sound, oil is deposit­ed too deep and spread too wide to have talk­ing points of its own. There­fore, oil requires vig­i­lant inter­pre­ta­tion. Nar­ra­tives from Parsani’s research sur­face in Cyclono­pe­dia as if unan­nounced from the soil and with an unpre­dictabil­i­ty that might prove too hec­tic for minds more famil­iar with, say, oil indus­try jour­nal­ism. Where­as jour­nal­ists cri­tique oil ortho­doxy in remote depen­den­cy or with the help of the odd dis­patch from wars tak­ing place else­where, Negarestani’s nar­ra­tive explains the his­tor­i­cal mythos with­in vast petro­le­um fields and his sen­tences emit the stench of its exhaust. The deser­ti­fied ground of Parsani’s field­work is com­prised of holes, dust, bitu­men and crit­ters that sink, shift and linger with an incal­cu­la­ble long-term effect on the archeologist’s sens­es. Geo­log­ic for­ma­tions thus seem to Parsani as sen­tient and respon­sive as any sce­nario above the soil. He recounts in his jour­nal that “[b]urrowing sounds may be heard from with­in the earth. Once they have fin­ished infest­ing the earth’s sol­id part, the lar­vae will cut breath­ing holes and press their head­less tails against the sur­face for air” (67)Very lit­tle “hap­pens” in Cyclono­pe­dia in the tra­di­tion­al sense of impart­ing a plot. The text con­sists of a series of exege­ses of Parsani’s thoughts, pri­mar­i­ly from his life­work Defac­ing the Ancient Per­sia. The effect of read­ing Parsani with­in a Negarestani’s text is dis­qui­et­ing and it caus­es one to ques­tion how fact, fic­tion, fan­ta­sy and the­o­ry coex­ist in con­tem­po­rary accounts of oil cul­ture.

With­out a firm sen­so­ry foot­ing, why assume that the val­ue of nar­ra­tive has its basis in stock-still and clear-eyed com­po­si­tion? What’s more, the sur­faces of Negarestani’s oil rich ter­rains are charred, slur­ry-rid­den and mil­i­ta­rized for a more pre­dictable rate of extrac­tion and steady refine­ment. Unheed­ed lessons? Who has time to inter­pret relics? Who has the peace of mind or pro­tec­tion to inter­pret oil fur­ther than its use?

Aside from Parsani and an ani­mat­ed cast of myth­ic petro­le­um fig­ures, Negarestani’s drama­tis per­son­ae con­sists of the large­ly anony­mous “glob­al war machine.” Far away in net­worked office build­ings, oper­a­tives are poised to hail rock­ets down upon those exceed­ing­ly attuned to oil. That is: beware to those who are defi­ant enough to stand their ground, slow things down, and who try to pro­vide read­ers with coher­ent details of petroleum’s past. A sur­pris­ing num­ber of peo­ple die from petro­le­um wars every day. Parsani’s para­noia is, appar­ent­ly, mer­it­ed; or, is not para­noia one of oil’s nar­ra­tive vehi­cles?

The over­all aes­thet­ic of Cyclono­pe­dia verges on break­down. Like many of the char­ac­ters writ­ten into exis­tence by Georges Bataille and H.P. Love­craft near­ly a cen­tu­ry ear­li­er, Negarestani’s Parsani is elu­sive because he is sum­moned from ‘below’ and not from ‘on high.’ Lost deities, hid­den num­bers and script, the sun’s detri­tus, corpses, gen­er­a­tional lay­ers of decay—Negarestani pulls the read­er across the con­tours of Parsani’s ener­vat­ed nar­ra­tive to exhume the sounds from this infest­ed source of ener­gy.

Author Biography

Kaposy, Tim: Tim Kaposy is Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Nia­gara Col­lege. He is co-edi­tor, with Imre Sze­man, of Cul­tur­al The­o­ry: An Anthol­o­gy (Wiley-Black­well, 2010) and the author of Doc­u­men­tary in the Age of Glob­al Cap­i­tal (cur­rent­ly, as of 2012, under review with Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Press).

Kaposy, Tim : Tim Kaposy est pro­fesseur adjoint d’anglais et de com­mu­ni­ca­tions au Col­lège Nia­gara. Il est coédi­teur de Cul­tur­al The­o­ry: An Anthol­o­gy (Wiley-Black­well, 2010), pour lequel il a col­laboré avec Imre Sze­man, et auteur de Doc­u­men­tary in the Age of Glob­al Cap­i­tal (2012, en éval­u­a­tion chez Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Press).


Copy­right Tim Kaposy. This arti­cle is licensed under a  Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.

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