Brendon Nicholls on Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy: Environment, Psyche and Objects (Abstract)

My paper adapts Freudian libido theory and Kleinian object relations theory to account for the tactically psychopathic subject in military conflagrations such as Biafra. The universal threats to soldiers’ lives (violence, disease, starvation) and the shifting theatres of war mean that the subject must become a function of circumstance and environment, calculating its continuing survival upon incremental advantage or optimal pleasure. Likewise, the object-attachments of the libido become insecure, fluid and fickle.

Saro-Wiwa’s protagonist in Sozaboy, Mene, and the universal soldier, Manmuswak (“man must eat”), repeatedly alter their military (and national) allegiances throughout the narrative as the events of war overtake them. In Sozaboy, the State’s ability to govern has completely broken down. Therefore, who one is inevitably becomes a function of where one happens to find oneself. To put this another way, both Mene and Manmuswak negotiate a situational micropolitics, in which identity is dictated by the immediate circumstance of power instead of the deep comradeship of ethnicity or nation. These subjects of civil war calculate their affiliations upon the crude and fluid algebra of pure expediency, in order to ensure their chances of survival.

My paper will conclude that this flattening of the subject corresponds in Sozaboy to the increasing autonomy of part-objects. These part-objects code for an environmental consciousness that exceeds the bounds of the subject and that arises from the beleaguered disposition of the appetites in Biafra. In short, I argue that the distensions and distortions of the body in Sozaboy address the politics of oil production and the pollution of the Niger Delta environment.


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