The prism of petrol: drive, desire and the energy unconscious in Anna Kavan’s Ice

  • Simon Andrew Orpana University of Alberta
Keywords: energy unconscious, petroleum, petroculture, apocalyptic fiction, psycho-analysis


This essay argues that psychoanalytic modes of interpretation can help us understand and intervene in the blockages and fantasies hindering the exodus from fossil fuel use that contemporary science tells us is urgently necessary. A reading of Anna Kavan's 1967 science fiction novel Ice reveals an "energy unconscious" at work by which petroleum fuels a violent and masculinist resolution to the alienation and fragmentation experienced by the protagonists. Such interpretations allow us to recognize how culture and subjectivity are shaped by petroleum, opening a space to work towards framing new narratives and values.

Author Biography

Simon Andrew Orpana, University of Alberta

Simon Orpana is an artist and researcher whose work explores the nexus between power, culture and everyday life. His writing on film, television and popular culture has appeared in numerous journals and book collections, including Zombie Theory: A Reader (2017). He is co-author, with Rob Kristofferson, of Showdown!: Making Modern Unions, a graphic history about the role played by Canadian steelworkers in shaping contemporary labour politics (2016). He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta working on a project that uses graphic narrative to articulate and challenge the barriers to imagining a world that is less dependent upon fossil fuels.


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