Italian Literary Writing in the Anthropocene a.k.a. Kai Zenland

Figure 1: A reproduction of the Ramsund carving. Key: (1) Sigurd cooking Fafnir’s heart and tasting its blood; (2) the birds singing to Sigurd about Regin’s intention to betray him; (3) Regin beheaded, his smithing tools scat- tered about; (4) Sigurd’s horse loaded with treasure; (5) Sigurd slaying Fafnir; and (6) O ́tr, whose accidental death at the hand of the god Loki kickstarts the saga (Kai Zen, Delta blues 8).

Figure 1: A reproduction of the Ramsund carving. Key: (1) Sigurd cooking Fafnir’s heart and tasting its blood; (2) the birds singing to Sigurd about Regin’s intention to betray him; (3) Regin beheaded, his smithing tools scat- tered about; (4) Sigurd’s horse loaded with treasure; (5) Sigurd slaying Fafnir; and (6) O ́tr, whose accidental death at the hand of the god Loki kickstarts the saga (Kai Zen, Delta blues 8).

Alessandro Macilenti is a graduate student of Italian at the School of Languages and Cultures of the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He is interested in determining how literary language can convey urgency to the environmentalist narrative and can increase awareness of environmental degradation among readers.

Here’s a work written by Alessandro (supervised by Dr. Sally Hill) for the the Victoria University of Wellington on our second novel Delta Blues. We are very proud to be chosen, among others, by Alessandro for his PhD thesis and what you’re about to read on Delta Blues is something that has surprised ourselves too. Here we go, Down Under (on the right). 

Here you can find the PDF of the work.

1 Delta blues

Kai Zen is an ensemble of writers which includes Jadel Andreetto, Bruno Fiorini, Guglielmo Pispisa, and Aldo Soliani. The Kai Zen have authored Ti chiamer`o Russell (2003) and La potenza di Eymerich (2004) in cooperation with Wu Ming and other writers. More recently, they have independently published popular titles such as La strategia dell’ariete (2007) and Delta blues (2010), which have been made available in various electronic formats on the group’s website through the Creative Commons license CC-by-nc-sa, which enables anyone to freely copy and modify the text for non-commercial purposes as long as attribution and the same license are preserved in the derived texts (Creative Commons). The practice of releasing literary material under the Creative Commons licence was adopted by Luther Blissett and is continued by Wu Ming. The Creative Commons licence encourages the dissemination of ideas, and allows access to information worldwide to anyone

who might need it for non-commercial purposes, without a requirement for monetary compensation.

1.1 Overview of the Novel

This section analyses Kai Zen’s most recent book, Delta blues, which has also been published in paperback by Edizioni Ambiente in the VerdeNero series. Delta blues is a rewriting of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which conveys a strong environmentalist and social message highlighting the plight of the people living in the Niger Delta, an ecosystem ravaged by the activities of transnational oil corporations. Martin Klein and Ivo Andri ̧c, codenamed Tamerlano, are Delta blues’ main characters. Klein is a geologist working for the multinational Ente, a transparent reference to the Italian corporation Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (Eni), which has major interests in petroleum extraction in Nigeria. In an interview, Jadel Andreetto declared that they chose to mask the name of the corporation in order to “ripararci da eventuali ripercussioni legali” [protect ourselves from possible legal repercussions]. The narration swings between the points of view of the two main characters: Martin Klein and Ivo Andric, both Ente employees. The former is an engineer whereas the latter is an Istrian secret agent instructed with the order to find Klein — though it is never clear whether his intentions are to rescue or to eliminate him. From his reports and from Klein’s emails to his daughter, we learn that Klein is interested in developing renewable energy sources in Nigeria. Unfortunately, his interest gains him enemies within the backward- thinking Ente, who enact a conspiracy to silence him. Thus, Klein is sent away on a mission with the alleged goal of researching alternatives to oil in the Niger Delta but whose real purpose is to have him eliminated. But Klein soon vanishes in the depths of the jungle and is rumoured to have joined the local resistance against the oil corporations. Andri ̧c is enlisted to find him. As the action proceeds, Andri ̧c’s chase leads him ever deeper into the horror of the Niger Delta, a formerly fertile ecosystem where everything reeks of death, oil, and corruption. Eventually, Andric discovers that local resistance movements have begun to worship Klein as a papaloa, a witch doctor possessed of supernatural powers.

Though Delta blues is certainly a novel and not a documentary, it intro- duces the reader to some very real problems affecting the Niger Delta, an area where strong Italian industrial interests are present but whose situation has been insufficiently covered in the news. Kai Zen makes a strong con nection between the climate of violence in the Niger Delta and the activities of the extractive industries, highlighting both the responsibilities of the lo- cal resistance groups and those of the corrupted government as well as the recklessness of the oil corporations. The bibliography included at the end of Delta blues is an open invitation for the reader to further research this topic.

Although separated by more than a century, both Heart of Darkness and Delta blues explore the damage of (neo)colonialism and resource imperial- ism. In this regard, Delta blues shows that the more things change, the more they are the same: whereas in the nineteenth century colonial powers looted Africa for ivory, in the twenty-first, multinational corporations loot Africa for oil — in both cases leaving behind grief, misery, and devasta- tion. The 2006 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reports that the Niger Delta suffers from “administrative neglect, crumbling social infrastructure and services, high unemployment, social deprivation, abject poverty, filth and squalor, and endemic conflict”, and finds an “inverse re- lationship” between development trends and economic growth based on oil and mineral production (9). In Nigeria as in other developing countries, a weak legislative framework and corruption prevent the fair redistribution of the wealth generated by mineral extraction. Moreover, lack of proper legis- lation and law enforcement fail to curb the environmental and social harm that profit-driven multinational corporations perpetrate against place and inhabitants. In such cases, instead of an opportunity for the local popula- tion, the extractive industry has cast a “resource curse” upon the country — causing internal and international conflicts, increased economic inequalty, political disengagement, corruption, and decline of existing manufacture and agricultural industries due to the sudden appreciation of the local cur- rency (so-called Dutch disease). As we shall see in the following sections, Kai Zen’s novel explores how Nigeria’s oil riches have turned into a resource curse for the inhabitants of the Niger Delta. Furthermore, I investigate how Kai Zen use language in Delta blues to create awareness of important social and environmental issues.

1.2 A Delta of Intersecting Texts

In his essay titled “Una termodinamica della fantasia”, Wu Ming 2 writes that “fino all’ultima pagina un libro ha bisogno di fiducia, oltre la copertina ha bisogno di ricerca” [until the last page, a book needs trust. Beyond the cover, it needs research] (189). Delta blues sends the reader on a horrific

journey that shows the true cost of oil, including the externalities that first- world citizens as much as corporations like to ignore, deny, and minimise. But where does fiction end, and fact begin, and why does it matter? Joseph Conrad described Heart of Darkness as “experience . . . pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case” (qtd. Hochschild 143). The same could be said for Delta blues which, uncharacteristically for a work of fiction, includes a bibliography, allowing the reader to peek behind the scenes of Kai Zen’s work (Delta blues 132). In it, works of non-fiction such as Gugliotta’s Nigeria, risorse di chi? — Petrolio e gas nel Delta del Niger (2008) mingle with anthropological classics uch as James G. Frazer’s Il ramo d’oro (2006) as well as works of fiction. Web sources span the Italian news website Peace Reporter, the environmentalist TreeHugger, the Nigerian- hosted Nigerian Bulletin, and others. Finally, the filmography includes the documentary Delta Oil’s Dirty Business as well as Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux. Delta blues’ declared sources are an invitation for the reader to investigate the situation of the Niger Delta, a region ravaged by environmental devastation, poverty, and violence.

Kai Zen invite the reader to navigate this intertextual web by creating charades and puzzles within the text so as to pique readers’ curiosity and invite them to explore further. For instance, the names of many of the characters of Delta blues are references to other texts. Joyce Carol Oates writes on the introduction of Heart of Darkness that Kurtz was named after Georges Antoine Klein, an employee of the Soci ́et ́e Anonyme Belge pour le Commerce du Haut-Congo who died on the steamboat Conrad was piloting (Conrad, Heart of Darkness; The Secret Sharer 4–5). Thus, Andreetto says, in Delta blues, “Klein `e stato chiamato Klein per Kurtz, ma in realta` `e stato Conrad a chiamare Kurtz per Klein” [Klein was called Klein for Kurtz but in reality Conrad called Kurtz for Klein]. Nina, Klein’s daughter in Delta blues, is a reference to Joseph Conrad’s first novel, Almayer’s Folly, where Nina is the name of Almayer’s daughter. The anonymous “contabile” of Delta blue has his counterpart in the equally anonymous “Accountant” in Heart of Darkness. Finally, Kai Zen’s choice of the name Tamerlano is a transparent reference to another English author: Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine’s playwright, whose surname recalls Marlow, Tamerlano’s alter-ego in Heart of Darkness. Through providing such textual puzzles, Kai Zen challenges readers to explore the novel’s intertexts. Although such open-ended research may lead each reader to a different conclusion, it provides an invitation to learn more about the work and about the reality it sketches.

There is more than intertextuality in Delta blues. In it, Kai Zen merges sources, points of views and even media types, so that their novel can be defined intermedial. This enables the reader to access the complex reality of the Niger Delta from many angles, through the eyes of many witnesses, and via various narrative registers. Delta blues’ intermedial nature takes different forms within the novel, affecting and driving the plot in several ways. The narration swings between third person narrative, email correspondence, pages from a diary, and videos. It also takes the form of citations from epic sagas as well as comics and Elizabethan theatre. Furthermore, the whole novel is organised in acts and scenes instead of chapters, as if it were a play, and the {EXTRA} section is an actual theatre adaptation of the novel, a “Pi`ece per due attori e orchestra” staged by the Compagnia Fantasma.

An instance of this intermediality is that Kai Zen inserts into the narrative the text of e-mails that the protagonist Martin Klein sends to his daughter Nina. When e-mail correspondence between Klein and Nina is interrupted after the engineer’s capture, the narrative proceeds through the pages of a diary that Klein keeps during his imprisonment. This style of narration, which mingles epistolary novel with swashbuckling adventures, is reminiscent of Luther Blissett’s Q, in which the reader peruses letters from Qoeleth to the bishop Gianpietro Carafa detailing his machinations to repress the heresies arising in Germany during the early sixteenth century. Epistolary narrative allows Kai Zen to tell Martin Klein’s story from a point of view which would otherwise be unknown to the reader: that of a father’s intimate exchanges with his daughter. Klein ceases to be simply an engineer working for the Ente, but becomes a multifaceted character who, in his private time lets off steam and confesses to his daughter (and therefore the reader) thoughts, hopes, and fears.

Delta blues’ intermedia nature also crosses the boundary of the written word to trespass into the realm of the visual. Kai Zen begin their novel with the reproduction of the Ramsund carving (figure 1), a piece of Norse art depicting the V ̈olsunga saga, whose imagery is widely employed within the novel. The Vo ̈lsunga saga tells the tale of Sigurd, a Norse hero who fights and slays Fafnir, a black poison-spewing dragon defending his treasure. As we will see in the following sections, the Vo ̈lsunga saga plays a huge part in defining the imagery of the novel and in shaping Tamerlano’s psychology. This is not merely a gratuitous reference to Norse literature, but a metaphor allowing the authors to express their political view.

By mingling different media, Kai Zen provide several channels through 

which readers can approach the Niger Delta. When Tamerlano meets the Belgian filmmaker Marguerite, he is shown chunks of footage from a docu- mentary she is shooting. Instead of reporting the content of the video, Kai Zen adopts for the scene a visual type of narration which simulates the video itself, introduced and closed by the codes we may see on the screen of a video- camera, and constructed of short sentences indicating actions and verbless descriptive clauses:

: RVM 00-00 rec :

L’immagine `e indecifrabile, in movimento. L’audio confuso. Passi rapidi su terra bagnata, respiri affannati, rami che si spezzano, frusciare di fronde e piante. Poi una vertigine, un’iperbole che da terra si alza: un albero contorto, fogliame, uno spicchio di luce …


Un’eterna sospensione imprigionata in una manciata di secondi, un’inquadratura fissa, l’immagine trema. Effetto neve. Buio.

: RVM 17-23 stop :

[The image is undecipherable, moving. The audio is confused. Quick steps on wet soil, gasping breaths, breaking branches, rustling fronds and plants. Then vertigo, a hyperbole which springs up from the soil: a twisted tree, leaves, a sliver of light . . .


An eternal suspension captured in a handful of seconds, a fixed shot, the image shakes. Snow. Darkness] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 47, 84).

This hybrid written-film register adds immediacy and thrill to the storytelling and enhances the emotional impact of the scene depicting the mass-murder of captives by militiamen with a flame-thrower.

Delta blues does more than tell the same story using multiple media: in fact its multimedial nature adds layers of complexity to the plot, making the narration more lifelike, drawing the contemporary reader further in the

stream of events, and offering different points of view to the story without resorting to the artifice of an omniscient narrator. Narrative cannot give answers to political problems, but it can and it must ask genuine questions. Kai Zen do so by raising the thorny issue of the role of Italian industry in the Niger Delta. However, merely pointing out at common responsibilities does not by itself help with solving complex problems. Kai Zen invite their readers to find solutions by pointing toward the galaxy of texts which have contributed to create Delta blues, suggesting that reading their novel should be only the first step in the personal path to understanding the crude truth about fossil fuel consumption.

1.2.1 The Metaphor as a Broken Bridge to the Invisible

The mind loves metaphors, and in fact metaphors might be an important mechanism that enables us to understand the world. However, it is necessary to be aware of the limits of such a mechanism. George Lakoff identifies in metaphor “the main mechanism through which we comprehend abstract concepts and perform abstract reasoning” (244). In Delta blues, fictional elements are effectively metaphors used to highlight real issues that readers would struggle to otherwise understand because their cause is too removed from the effect. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad compares the Congo river to an “immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land” to signify both the river’s geography and its mystery (Heart of Darkness 10). Kai Zen expands Heart of Darkness’ metaphor of the snake by drawing the image of the dragon Fafnir from the Icelandic Vo ̈lsunga saga. When meeting the saga’s hero Sigurd, Fafnir thus introduces himself: “[a] countenance of terror I bore up before all folk, after that I brooded over the heritage of my brother, and on every side did I spout out poison, so that none durst come anight me” (Magnu ́sson and Morris 62). Fafnir jealously hoards its treasure at the same time inspiring terror and spewing poison all around him. In Kai Zen’s novel, the Niger river becomes Fafnir:

il fiume si mostrava in tutta la sua portata come un drago. Fa ́fnir, il serpente che avvince, che abbraccia il tesoro. La nemesi in- carnata della Saga dei Volsunghi, una lunga serpe azzurra che spalanca le fauci immonde, mostrando la chiostra di denti con cui azzanna il mare, pronta a inghiottire chiunque si creda Sigurd

[the river showed itself in all its capacity like a dragon. Fafnir, the constrictor snake who embraces the treasure. The living nemesis of the V ̈olsunga saga, a long blue serpent with foul gaping jaws, showing the circling teeth with which it bites the sea, ready to swallow whoever thinks himself Sigurd (Delta blues 17).

Fafnir/Niger poisons the people living on its shores while it greedily hoards the profits coming from the exploitation of the nation’s oil reserves. The metaphor of Fafnir enables Kai Zen to introduce the complex topics of petroleum pollution and slow violence in the Niger Delta without sacrificing narrative momentum. In addition, the metaphor allows the readers to visualise and connect with the environmental and social impacts of petroleum extraction in the Niger Delta, while letting the authors avoid the dense lan- guage of scientific prose which would likely discourage some readers from investigating the issue.

But if Fafnir is the Niger river, who is Sigurd? While navigating the river, Tamerlano ineffectively mulls the question: “F ́afnir si dispiegava sulla mappa come una sinuosa linea azzurra. Mi chiesi se Sigurd fosse Martin Klein, o se invece non lo fossi io” [Fafnir unfolded on the map like a sinuous blue line. I asked myself whether Sigurd was Martin Klein, or if instead it was me] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 54). Lost on the great river, Tamerlano tries to apply Western frames of reference to the perceived chaos, but his efforts are frustrated because the Niger Delta is revealed as alien to such Eurocentric characterisation: “era solo uno dei tanti segnali che non avevo percepito, che non avevo osservato. Mi ritrovavo punto a capo, lo scarafaggio sul marmo. Qualcuno aveva manipolato il mito, e la narrazione mentiva. Sigurd era stato sconfitto e divorato da Fa ́fnir.” [it was only one of the many signs that I did not perceive, that I did not observe. I was back to square one, a cockroach on marble. Someone had manipulated the myth, the narrative lied. Sigurd had been defeated and devoured by Fafnir] (101). Only too late does Tamerlano manage to solve the riddle but, again, the answer appears as a subversion of the European myth of human supremacy over the forces of Nature which Fafnir impersonates:

Mi giro verso l’acqua, la sagoma d’ebano dell’arlecchino `e seduta su un tronco che galleggia all’incrocio di due affluenti. Inter- rompe l’arpeggio alla chitarra, tocca la falda del capello in segno di saluto: “A` bientˆot Tamerlano.” Il fiume scintilla come la pelle di un serpente, ha scaglie oleose, iridescenti, solcate da arcobaleni

di benzina, fiammate di gas flaring e lische di pesci preistorici. Sigurd svanisce nella tenebra, sul dorso di F ́afnir [I turn towards the water, the ebony silhouette of the harlequin sits on a floating log at the meeting of two tributaries. He interrupts the guitar arpeggio, touches the brim of his hat as a greeting: “A` bientˆot Tamerlano.” The river sparkles like the skin of a snake, it has oily scales, grooved with petrol rainbows, gas flaring flames and pre- historic fish-bones. Sigurd vanishes in the darkness, on Fafnir’s back] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 124).

In the V ̈olsunga saga, Sigurd, a handsome Nordic warrior, receives the sword Gram as a gift from the god Odin, and with that weapon he is able to slay the evil dragon Fafnir. But the real hero of Delta blues is revealed to be Ade, a Beninese ex-fisherman and musician, whom Tamerlano calls “l’arlecchino” [the Harlequin], whose cunning allows him to neutralise Klein’s mad and violent ambition and to peacefully ride the dragon. Tamerlano’s failed attempt to interpret the Niger Delta through a Eurocentric framework shows that we cannot understand the Niger Delta unless we slip out of ha- bitual thinking patterns that assume that confrontation is the best means to overcome the challenges that Nature offers to humanity.

1.3 Fast and Slow Violence

“[O]wari yokereba, subete yoshi” [the end justifies the means] says Taro Shibuya, the mysterious Italian-Japanese contractor to whom the Ente en- trusts the job of finding Martin Klein (Kai Zen, Delta blues 12). Or does it? Two questions ensue from the deconstruction of the contractor’s phrase: first, what is the meaning of the word “end”? And second, who reaps the consequences of the “means”? The former question is somewhat rhetorical. Henry D. Thoreau wrote in Walden, or Life in the Woods (1882), that “the principal object” of industrialisation is not the public good, but “that the corporations may be enriched”, adding that “[i]n the long run men hit only what they aim at” (44). This holds true nowadays, so much so that fossil fuel corporations turn the highest revenues among all human enterprises. Royal Dutch Shell tops the Fortune 2013 Global 500, and four out of the five follow- ing entries are petroleum corporations (CNN Money). Thus, we know that the final loyalty of any corporation is towards its shareholders. However, it is legitimate to enquire about whether corporate pursuit of profit generates

any victims. In other words, who pays the real price of the corporations’ “means”? Kai Zen attempt to answer this question their novel by showing what fossil fuel extraction means to the populations living on the Niger Delta.

In the Niger Delta, the development of mineral resources has generated a sense of frustrated justice and inequity, and the destruction of agricul- ture, a traditional source of income for the local population, has generated unemployment and poverty, leading to soaring violence. The government and petroleum corporations have often directly and indirectly contributed to escalating violence. A Nigerian government memo reads: “Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence” (Nixon 103). The UNDP expresses “no doubt that the incidence of conflicts may have been considerably less if there had been no oil and gas in the region” (United Nations Development Pro- gramme 22). It further reports that “[t]he Niger Delta is virtually in a state of siege”, mainly because of widespread discontentment and disillusion as the extractive industries funnel oil wealth to the ruling elites and to foreign corporations while generating virtually no benefit for the local populations (112).

But another type of violence, which is subtler yet just as harmful, taints the Niger Delta: it is the violence that the petroleum industry has silently perpetrated for half a century against the Delta populations through the “severe pollution of rivers and soils and the overall environmental degrada- tion”, which will inevitably haunt the area for decades, inhibiting legitimate economic activity, exacerbating conflict and corruption, and poisoning wa- ter, soil and air with toxins (112). Robert Nixon describes slow violence as gradual, invisible, indirect, and delayed. Oil spills and gas flaring are unlike bullets fired from a gun. Both kill, but the latter murder visibly and noisily, instantly. Most importantly, it is possible to immediately draw a causal con- nection between whoever pulls the trigger and the victim. The former, on the other hand, kill quietly and invisibly: when toxins enter aquatic or land ecosystems, animal life is destroyed, plants choke and wither. This is just the beginning, because ecosystems sustain human communities. Suddenly, crops sown on tainted soil rot and livelihoods are lost. In addition, toxins and carcinogens from polluted water, air and contaminated fish pass through porous bodily membranes to reach internal organs where they slowly begin sabotaging cellular processes. Years and even decades may elapse before symptoms become apparent. The damage slow violence wreaks is tempo- rally removed from its causes and thus it is easier to hide and rationalise.

But even when the petroleum companies leave, their “legacy continues to seep into the environment and bodies of the local farming community that, unlike the international corporation, has nowhere else to go” (Nixon 107). Thus, in the Niger Delta, the development of mineral resources has generated a sense of frustrated justice and inequity, and the destruction of agriculture, a traditional source of income for the local population has generated unem- ployment and poverty, leading to soaring violence.

Nixon dedicates a whole chapter to the plight of the Ogoni, a people who live in the ground zero of the petroleum industry. His analysis focuses partic- ularly on Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni activist whom the Nigerian government hanged in 1995 along with the so-called “Ogoni Nine” because of their non- violent protest against the “deadly ecological war” which the oil corporations have waged against the Delta people (Saro-Wiwa, A Month and a Day 131). Prior to his judicial murder, Saro-Wiwa declared in an interview to Channel 4 that “[o]il companies have flared gas in Nigeria for the past thirty-three years causing acid rain … What used to be the bread basket of the delta has now become totally infertile. All one sees and feels around is death. Environmental degradation has been a lethal weapon in the war against the indigenous Ogoni people” (“Without Walls”).

Due to its geography and ecology, the Niger Delta is a particularly sen- sitive area, and oil spills represent a dramatic problem from both a social and ecological point of view. The Niger Delta comprises the area covered by the natural delta of the Niger river and it includes four main ecological regions: the coastal sandy barrier ridge zone, the mangrove swamp zone, the freshwater swamp zone and the lowland rainforest zone. The Niger delta includes eight Nigerian states and is home to 500,000 people belonging to several heterogeneous ethnic groups. The United Nations Development Pro- gramme’s (UNDP) Niger Delta Human Development Report identifies five major ethnic and linguistic groups in habiting the Niger Delta: Ijoid, Edoid, Delta Cross, Yoruboid and Igboid, each of which includes several sub-groups (19–20). However, the ethnic composition of the Niger Delta is very differ- ent from that of Nigeria. Because of the Nigerian government’s high level of centralisation, Delta minorities have virtually no institutional representation in Abuja. Nixon writes that “unelected officials from the three largest ethnic groups — the Yoruba, the Igbo, and the Hausa-Fulani — have totally dom- inated national politics”. In addition, due to virtually exclusive reliance on petroleum as a source of national income, corruption and inequality are rife in Nigeria. 96% of Nigeria’s export revenue and 80% of government income

come from selling petroleum and 1% of the population controls 85% of such wealth (Nixon 106). Petroleum not only generates inequality, but damages traditional industries too. The Niger Delta was in colonial times a centre for the production of palm oil, cocoa, rubber and timber. However, “severe pol- lution of rivers and soils and the overall environmental degradation wrought by oil have led to the decline of crops” (United Nations Development Pro- gramme 125). In Delta blues, the reader explores the Niger Delta through Klein’s and Tamerlano’s eyes, observing the devastating effects of petroleum pollution on the local ecology and on its inhabitants.

Notice how the descriptive language of the novel compares with the dry language of the UNDP report:

Pesce non me ne voleva dare. Disse che era avvelenato. Alcune famiglie di un villaggio non molto distante si erano intossicate poco prima e un bambino era morto di dissenteria. “Quando lo peschi `e coperto di grasso grigio e puzza come il fondo di un barile di cherosene. La gente ha fame. Lo mangia lo stesso. Succede anche con i coccodrilli. Devo macellare i polli o comprare la carne secca dei nomadi. Una volta avevo delle capre, ma bevevano l’acqua fluviale” [He did not want to give me any fish. He said it was poisoned. Some families in a village not far away had been recently intoxicated and a child died with dysentery. “When you fish it, it is covered in grey grease and stinks like the bottom of a cherosene barrel. People are hungry. They eat it anyway. It happens with crocodiles too. I have to slaughter the chickens or buy dried meat from the nomads. Once I had goats, but they drank river water”] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 66).

Kai Zen places the reader right in the centre of the action, activating em- pathic responses in readers as they are face likely situations and characters, as opposed to describing the reality of the Niger Delta from outside in suppos- edly neutral terms, a narrative mode which cannot but increase the reader’s alienation from its plight and its inhabitants.

1.3.1 Watching the Delta through Many Eyes II — The Author

Kai Zen are an ensemble of Italian writers, so their narration necessarily reflects their Western cultural background. In the novel, Marguerite Clee- newerk embodies such partial point of view: “Marguerite era lo sguardo che

abbiamo avuto noi Kai Zen nel guardare i documentari, cio`e la curiosita` di andare a vedere, di infilarsi nei casini pur di raccontare questa storia” [Marguerite was the gaze that we Kai Zen adopted while watching the docu- mentaries, that is the curiosity of going to see, even to get into trouble just so as we could tell this story] (Jadel Andreetto). Her inclusion among the char- acters allows Kai Zen to vindicate the necessarily partial and faulty point of view of the authors instead of adopting a contrived and dishonest semblance of objectivity. Such vindication is one of the fundamental characteristics of NIE: Wu Ming 2 explains that, “[n]el nostro mestiere di narratori, credo che l’onesta` intellettuale stia nel dichiarare il punto di vista … Se io dichiaro questa prospettiva, allora anche una narrazione necessariamente parziale pu`o diventare utile per tutti [in our craft of narrators, I believe that intellectual honesty lies in declaring the point of view … If I declare this perspective, then also a necessarily partial narrative can be useful to everyone]” (Wu Ming 2).

Marguerite pays a huge price for her curiosity in Delta blues, and goes through (like many of the novel’s characters) a violent cathartic process which reshapes the way she faces the world. At the beginning, she is described as a strong woman: a “reporter d’assalto che da anni girava l’Africa e da qualche settimana tentava di portare a casa un lavoro sul Movimento per l’emancipazione del Delta del Niger” [an assault reporter who travelled Africa for years and since a few weeks ago was trying to complete a job about the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 35). She appears ready to find the truth by any means, and tries to exchange sex for information with Tamerlano:

si avvicino` fino a respirare del mio respiro, gli occhi color ruggine piantati nei miei e un mezzo sorriso. Mi slaccio` la patta e infilo` la mano nei boxer. Un leggero movimento ritmico di indice e medio, senza mai abbassare lo sguardo. “Non prenderla sul personale. E` solo lavoro. Ottengo sempre quello che voglio.” [she came near until she breathed my breath, her rust-coloured eyes planted into mine and a half-smile. She unzipped my fly and inserted her hand into my boxers. A slight rhythmic movement of index and middle finger, without ever lowering her gaze. “Don’t take it personally. It is only work. I always get what I want.”] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 46)

But what she finds out in Niger Delta overwhelms her and she goes through

the death of a friend and rape (Kai Zen, Delta blues 80, 95). However, Mar- guerite survives and she comes out of the experience deeply changed. At the end of the novel, Marguerite Cleenewerck calls Nina, Klein’s daughter, to hand her the recording of her father’s last farewell which, the text suggests, contains an indictment of the Ente’s responsibilities in the Niger Delta. Com- pared with her boisterousness at the beginning of the novel, Marguerite seems now to have changed into a stronger, quieter, wiser person. Nina can feel her kindness through the phone, and because of that, she agrees to talk with her: “Non era stata una frase o una parola in particolare, ma una sfumatura della voce, qualcosa di indefinibile” [It was not a phrase or a particular word, but a subtlety of the voice, something undefinable] (127). When they finally meet, Marguerite offers Nina advice on how to use the information that her father bequeathed to her, an offering and a choice of words which would sound completely out-of-character were the old Marguerite be speaking: “Non si puo` affrontare la tenebra con la tenebra. Alle volte ci vuole un cuore gentile” [You cannot confront darkness with darkness. Sometimes you need a kind heart] (128).

Kai Zen explicitly set Marguerite’s character up to reflect their own ex- perience in learning about the situation of the Niger Delta. In describing Marguerite’s catharsis from a boisterous confidence to a quieter wisdom, they describe their own traumatic awakening to the complex reality of the Niger Delta. In addition to that, Marguerite is one of the few characters whose point of view a number of Italian readers may empathise with. An- dreetto explains that “Klein `e un genio, ma `e pazzo, mentre la coscienza di Tamerlano non corrisponde con quella che potrebbe essere del lettore . . . Marguerite `e un po’ lo sguardo dell’europeo che guarda queste cose con una certa coscienza” [Klein is a genius, but he is mad, whereas Tamerlano’s con- science does not correspond to what the reader’s may be . . . Marguerite is a bit the point of view of the European who looks at these things with some conscience]. From such assertions it is possible to infer that Kai Zen believes that their novel will in fact contribute not only to inform, but also, in some way, to awaken their readers to their role in the drama of the Niger Delta.

1.3.2 Watching the Delta Through Many Eyes III — Nigerians

Much of the violence and environmental degradation affecting the Niger Delta ensues from the petroleum companies exploiting Nigeria’s weak political and judicial frameworks in the pursuit of higher profits at the expense of the river

people. There is nothing new in the concept that imperialistic greed causes much damage in faraway lands. During the colonial era, nation-states sought to increase their influence and wealth by expanding their reach through mil- itarily controlling faraway lands, enslaving the locals and seizing raw ma- terials. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness illustrates the brutality of the Belgian colonial rule in Congo:

They were dying slowly — it was very clear. They were not ene- mies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now — nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying con- fusedly in the greenish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became in- efficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest. These moribund shapes were free as air — and nearly as thin (Heart of Darkness 25).

The worldwide political reshuffling which followed World War II encouraged claims of independence in many colonies, kickstarting the process of decoloni- sation, but colonialism was not over. The developed world still exerts a disproportionate if indirect power over developing countries and have been implicated in deposing democratically elected governments as well as in sup- porting dictators and kleptocrats. Multinational corporations have become actors, too, in this neo-colonial scenario, seeking to maximise profits by ex- ploiting cheap workforce and weak legal frameworks in developing countries.

Indeed, the premise of both Heart of Darkness and Delta blues is to illustrate the horrors of (neo)colonial domination. However, whereas the similarities between the two books are striking, so are the differences. In Heart of Darkness, “il negro non parla mai, non ha coscienza, `e una specie di oggetto” [the black person never speaks, has no conscience, is a kind of object] (Jadel Andreetto). Conrad’s “savages” only utter “a violent babble of uncouth sounds” or exchange “short grunting phrases”, speaking a mangled English in two occasions only: when craving human flesh and to announce Kurtz’s death (Heart of Darkness 7, 28, 65, 66, 116; 122–123). It is true that Delta blues is a rewriting of Heart of Darkness and that there are important plot similarities between the two. However, it would be unthinkable for Kai Zen to represent the indigenous characters in such terms in the twenty- first century: Kai Zen’s black characters are very different indeed, a far cry from Joseph Conrad’s “savages”. Zainab Amodu, Sunday, and even

minor characters such as Makiwa and Johnny Saa, are articulated and well- defined human beings with desires, goals and a personality. Whereas Heart of Darkness’ “savages” were too passive to resist Belgian penetration, Delta blues’ Nigerians are not “dispost[i] a farsi colonizzare, vuoi per ideale o per interesse” [prone to letting [themselves] be colonised, be it because of ideals or because of interest] (Jadel Andreetto). On the contrary: characters in Delta blues reflect the whole range of human behaviour, from the idealist to the cynical, to the corrupt. Thus, although inhabiting a society mired in corruption, Kai Zen’s black characters cease to be an indefinite tawny mass of bestiality, and become round, human characters struggling for emancipation and challenging the Western colonisers some with pivotal roles in Klein’s epiphany and Kai Zen’s novel.

Such a rich description of the local humanity allows the authors to utilise different characters to display the multiple facets of the local society and the challenges that such society is facing under the pressure of a degrading environment. The questions of environmental justice lies at the very core of Delta blues and Kai Zen mainly voice these concerns through the character of Dr. Zainab Amodu, a cynical and disillusioned professor of Environmen- tal Impacts at the University of Lagos, whom Martin Klein meets during his journey, and who is instrumental in shaping his perceptions of the re- sponsibilities of the extractive industry in the pollution of the Niger Delta. Kai Zen created Zainab in order to “spiegare la situazione senza appesantire il romanzo” [explain the situation without overloading the novel]. Zainab, Andreetto adds, was a way to introduce a point of view which is “altro” [al- ternative] from the European point of view, and “interno” [internal] from the African one. Zainab explains that there are two main causes for the pollution of the area: one is the decrepitude of the petroleum infrastructure and the other is the practice of gas flaring:

Zainab pos`o una mano sui tubi, la ritir`o unta. I condotti essu- davano il loro contenuto. Avevano un aspetto logoro. Zainab mi spiego` che l’intera rete veniva manutenuta solo in occasioni eccezionali e i piccoli gocciolamenti che avevamo visto non erano considerati tali. Ma era perlopiu` colpa della fatiscenza di questi impianti se il petrolio stava lentamente avvelenando la regione [Zainab placed her hand on the pipes, and when she retracted it, it was greasy. The ducts exuded its contents. They had a worn- out look. Zainab explained that the network was only maintained

in special occasions and the small drippings that we saw were not considered as such. But it was mostly because of the disrepair of the rigs that oil was slowly poisoning the whole region] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 39).

Zainab’s observations echo recent research into the causes of petroleum spills in Nigeria. Amnesty International reports that, “since the mid-1990s, SPDC has claimed that sabotage now accounts for as much as 70 per cent of all petroleum spills. The Nigerian Agip Oil Company has reported that 68 per cent of spills are attributable to sabotage” (Amnesty International 17). However, Frynas finds that “[t]here are indeed strong indications that oil companies in Nigeria have used false claims of sabotage to avoid compensa- tion payments” (128). Independent reports are few and far between because the oil corporations are the most powerful actors in the area and have a vested interest in showing as little liability as possible. In a 2008 report published in the Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Adebayo and Dada identify several causes for the petroleum spillages that affect the re- gion, attributing 25.65% to sabotage or vandalism; 56.33% to various forms of pipeline failure due to lack of maintenance, corrosion, material fatigue, or human error; 6.92% to third party accidental damage; 5.69% to natural forces (280). In his documentary film Delta, Oil’s Dirty Business, Yorgos Avgeropoulos also links destitution, poverty, and a climate of violence with spills, but also highlights the huge responsibilities of the extractive industry in the degradation of the area.

As anticipated, pipeline leakage is not the only environmental problem that affects the quality of life in the region. In Delta blues, Zainab introduces Klein to the damages associated with gas flaring, “la pratica di bruciare i gas che si estraggono insieme al petrolio invece di riutilizzarli” [the practice of burning the gases that are extracted together with petroleum instead of using them]. Petroleum companies find it cheaper to burn such gases instead of purifying and reselling them. Zainab explains that gas flaring “crea un inquinamento tremendo, causa di piogge acide, e in cambio la gente non ha niente. A parte i tumori e le malattie respiratorie e della pelle, chiaro” [pol- lutes terribly, causes acid rain, and in exchange the people receives nothing. Apart from cancers, respiratory and skin diseases, obviously] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 32). Again, research shows that there is little fiction in Zainab’s words. Amnesty International reports that “Nigeria has prohibited gas flaring since

1984, unless a ministerial consent has been issued. Although the government has announced various deadlines for the cessation of flaring, each deadline has passed and flaring continues” (18). In the paper “Negative Effects of Gas Flaring: The Nigerian Experience”, Anslem O. Ajugwo finds that “Nigeria flares 17.2 billion m3 of natural gas per year in conjunction with the ex- ploration of crude oil in the Niger Delta … equal to approximately one quarter of the current power consumption of the African continent”, causing “environmental, health, and social problems in local communities near oil producing fields” (6).

The second pivotal Nigerian character that Kai Zen uses to picture the sit- uation in the Niger Delta is Sunday, the local militia leader: whereas Zainab highlights the environmental consequences of petroleum extraction in the Niger Delta, Sunday allows the reader to visualise and understand its social consequences. The UNDP reports that Delta inhabitants “believe strongly that the environmental predicament contributes to social and economic de- privation”, and that the government is unable at best and unwilling at worst to limit the damage brought about by the activities of the petroleum industry (80, 81). This discontent was left to brew for decades and culminated in the arrest and execution of the Ogoni Nine after they had presented the “Ogoni Bill of Rights” demanding environmental and sociopolitical reform (126). The failure of the Nigerian government to engage in a democratic process of reform led to a “youth crisis” where militias have been assembled to “prevent the oil companies from extracting oil without due regard for the environment and the people” (127). The most prominent of such militias is called MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta), which The Economist has described as “an umbrella organisation for several armed groups” that seek “a greater share of Nigeria’s oil revenues to go to the impoverished region that sits atop the oil”. Despite the idealism, MEND’s revenues come from “gun-running” and from siphoning petroleum from pipelines, which is then sold to refineries overseas: “insiders in the oil industry reckon that as much as 10% of Nigeria’s oil production, worth millions of dollars, is stolen each day” (“Risky toughness”). Andreetto claims that, in Delta blues, the leadership of the MEND are “scienziati, ingegneri, architetti” [scientists, engineers, archi- tects]. I was unable to find any figures in the literature to substantiate the claim that a sizeable percentage of MEND leaders are graduates. However, it is true that other terrorist organisations boast high literacy rates among their core affiliates. For example, Marc Sageman found that, among “the Central Staff of the global Salafi jihad … 88 percent had finished college

and 20 percent had doctorate degrees” (75) Plot-wise, the most important of these militants is Sunday. Kai Zen describe him as an educated and wily leader: “`e un uomo orgoglioso, ha un suo codice” [is a proud man, he follows his own code] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 58). Sunday believes he has no choice but violence:

“[h]o trentasette anni e due lauree. Ingegneria e informatica. Pensavo potessero servire per aiutarmi a fare strada nel mio paese, e magari ad aiutare il mio paese a uscire da questo… schifo. Sbagliavo.” Riprese in mano il fucile, solo per un attimo: “Questo `e molto piu` utile, mi sono accorto. Non `e la soluzione, ma `e piu` utile delle mie lauree. Pero` non sono un assassino, nessuno di noi lo sarebbe se ci venisse lasciata un’altra possibilita`” [“I am 37 years old and I have two degrees. Engineering and computer science. I thought they would help me succeed, and maybe help my country out of this… mess. I was wrong”. He took up the rifle again, just for a moment: “This is much more useful, I realised. It is not the solution, but it is more useful than my degrees. But I am not a murderer, no one of us would be if we had the chance”] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 180).

But if on one hand he idealistically opposes the penetration of the extractive industries, he earns money from protecting those who engage in bunkering, the illegal practice of piercing the oil pipelines to steal the crude and sell it abroad — an activity which often causes more spills (Kai Zen, Delta blues 51, 129; Amnesty International 13). In fact, Sunday admits, “era difficile distinguere il suo gruppo da una delle tante gang armate che operavano solo per denaro” [it was hard to tell his group apart from the armed gangs who were in it only for the money] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 51). But even though their illegal activities often aggravate the ecological problems that beset the area, the local population supports their struggle as they are perceived as the lesser evil: Daniel Howden writes in the Independent that MEND militants “enjoy widespread support as 20 million people remain rooted in poverty despite the enormous wealth generated in the oil-rich area” (Howden). In Delta blues, Sunday — scheming and cynical — is perfectly adapted to the socially and ecologically toxic environment he inhabits.

Kai Zen utilises black characters in Delta blues to illustrate the problems besetting the region. However, unlike in Heart of Darkness, black charac- ters are not simply faceless and voiceless savages. Many are highly refined,

educated, and emancipated (if somewhat cynical) — capable of using their skills to pursue their aspirations. In contrast with Heart of Darkness, the characterisation of black characters as thinking and sophisticated human be- ings facilitates readers’ empathy and identification with their plight. Jadel Andreetto likes to repeat that “le cose sono complesse” [reality is complex] and reason falters when attempting to understand a vast causal web such as the interaction between Niger Delta inhabitants, Nigerian government and multinational companies in the frameworks of history, politics and ecology. But indeed, each character in Delta blues, regardless of their ethnicity, pro- vides an oblique (and unique) point of view to the situation of the Niger Delta, so much so that Kai Zen’s novel reads almost as an allegorical tale of greed, struggle and environmental destruction. Giving a face and a voice to the human beings to the inhabitants of the Delta unmasks the crimes of the petroleum corporations, encourages readers’ identification with men and women inhabiting oil-rich regions, and highlights the true price of petroleum- powered lifestyles.

1.3.3 Death, Rebirth and Catharsis on the Niger Delta

We have seen how violence, both fast and slow, and death are ubiquitous on the Niger Delta. The UNDP reports that “violence is unleashed randomly on unsuspecting communities or oil workers. Whole villages have been de- stroyed and their populace displaced because of disputes that could have been amicably resolved” and that “violence has become the prevalent means of re- solving disputes in the region” (United Nations Development Programme 3, 118). Likewise, while the firefights which pepper the novel may add spice to the novel, the more the reader penetrates the depths of the Niger Delta, the more horror takes the place of excitement when realising the aftermaths of violence:

Cadaveri, decine di cadaveri, alcuni sono gi`a scheletri, altri, non ancora del tutto decomposti, hanno le ossa ricoperte da putridume squagliato e nerastro. Cos’`e questo inferno? Ade ammicca in di- rezione della foresta, dietro le mie spalle. Questo posto `e piu` peri- coloso di quello che sembra, mi dice, e ride. Alcuni mesi fa, questa gente si `e trovata al posto sbagliato, nel momento sbagliato e so- prattutto dalla parte sbagliata [corpses, dozens of corpses, some already skeletons. Others, not yet completely decomposed, have

bones covered in liquefied and rotten black filth. What is this hell? Ade winks in the direction of the forest, behind my shoul- ders. This place is more dangerous than it seems, he tells me, and laughs. Some months ago, these people were in the wrong place at the wrong time and, most importantly, on the wrong side] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 108).

Death and horror are direct consequences of the violence that permeates the Niger Delta, and Kai Zen’s novel illustrates how hundreds of lives are being lost due to conflict in the area. However terror-inspiring, death and horror are only part of the equation, just one of the multiple stages that Delta blues’ characters go through, a process called “nigredo”, which Kai Zen defines in the novel’s glossary:

in alchimia significa putrefazione, decomposizione e rappresenta il fuoco esterno che, penetrato nel corpo, attiva il fuoco interno che inizia a putrefarlo riducendolo a quella materia di cui era com- posto in origine. In semiotica viene identificato come l’insieme delle difficolt`a che l’uomo affronta e cerca di superare durante il suo viaggio all’inferno, ovvero all’interno di s ́e stesso. In psi- cologia `e il processo in cui, attraverso l’utilizzo soprattutto delle emozioni, si ritrova l’auto-conoscenza [in alchemy, it means putre- faction, decomposition. It represents the external fire that, once penetrated in the body, activates the internal fire which begins to putrefy it, reducing it to the same matter it was composed of originally. In semiotics, it is identified with the set of hard- ships that the individual faces and attempts to overcome during the journey to Hell, that is, inside the self. In psychology, it is the process through which, mainly through the use of emotions, self-knowledge can be found] (Delta blues 131)

Such concept is not Kai Zen’s invention, but it is in fact an alchemical prin- ciple which Carl Jung adapted to his psychological framework, and which he defined a “subjectively experienced process brought about by the subject’s painful, growing awareness of his shadow aspects” akin to the process of acknowledgement and mourning (Ashton 231). Death, transfiguration and rebirth are strong forces driving Delta blues, manifesting themselves through Klein.

But although Klein’s charismatic and necromantic powers become appar- ent as soon as he sets his foot in Nigeria, he is himself a pawn of higher forces

and eventually succumbs to them. After Klein is captured and brought to Sunday’s camp as a prisoner, he meets Ade and through him, he is informed that he is a papaloa:

dalle mie parti quelli come te li chiamano ladri d’ombre. Cos’`e un ladro d’ombre? chiedo . . . I ladri d’ombre si mettono ai crocicchi, in attesa che passino le anime che si sono allontanate dal corpo di chi sta dormendo. Quando l’anima attraversa l’incrocio, il ladro d’ombre la fa sua ed essa non puo` piu` tornare al legittimo proprietario, una volta che il corpo di questo si sia risvegliato . . . Non lo dira` a nessuno, a patto che gli insegni [“Where I come from, people like you are called shadow thieves”. “What is a shadow thief?”, I ask . . . “Shadow thieves stand at crossroads, waiting for souls that have stranded from the bodies of sleeping people. When the soul passes through the crossroads, the shadow thief captures it and it cannot go back to the legitimate owner once its body had woken up” . . . He won’t tell anybody, provided that I teach him] (Delta blues 87)

Klein never realises it, but the person Klein calls his “scudiero” [squire] is actually manipulating him, guiding him toward insanity, toward the consum- mation of his nigredo and that of those who surround him (Delta blues 103). In fact, for someone who is supposed to be a pupil, Ade seems to know a lot about black magic. First of all, as we have seen, he immediately recog- nises Klein’s potential as a papaloa. Second, he teaches Klein how to build a “tsakatu”, a death-fetish (104). Far from being a pupil, Ade is actually Klein’s teacher in disguise. In fact, Ade [Hades] is the name of the Greek god of the underworld. Furthermore, Tamerlano calls Ade “l’arlecchino” [the Harlequin], a mask of the Italian commedia dell’arte typical of the city of Bergamo which enacts the animal side of human nature. But although the Harlequin is a comic mask, its origins are demonic. The probable et- ymology of the word “Harlequin” is through the Old High German “H ̈olle Ko ̈nig” [Hell’s king]. The figure of the Harlequin, or “Hennekin”, is a de- mon appearing first in Ordericus Vitalis’ Historia Ecclesiastica, which Dante subsequently places (under the name of Alichino) in the eighth circle, fifth pouch, guarding the barrators (Vitalis 515; Toschi 196–208; Alighieri and Zolesi Inferno, XXII, 112). Such connotations shed a somewhat sinister light on Ade, or “l’arlecchino”. At the same time, as an agent of nigredo, Ade is no less than Exu, the Yoruba god of death, chaos and trickery, sometimes

associated with the devil. Contrary to Satan in the Christian tradition, Exu is not intrinsically evil: while it is true that his Black Work causes grief, it also offers access to wisdom to receptive characters.

But while Ade (through Klein) is the agent of nigredo, the transfiguring process is particularly visible in Tamerlano, and Tamerlano is the character who is most consciously aware of Klein’s spell:

Le idee hanno un suono, come i metalli. Lo avevo letto anni ad- dietro non ricordo piu` dove. Le idee di Klein dovevano vibrare e risuonare come campane di bronzo per gli uomini dell’Ente. Io le immaginavo piu` come mercurio, argento vivo. Qualcosa di alchemico in grado di innescare un processo di trasformazione. Chiunque fosse venuto in contatto con quell’uomo notevole sem- brava non poter resistere al suo potere trasfigurante. Una forza capace di scatenare l’Opera al Nero, la nigredo, la morte dell’Io, la morte di tutti i desideri personali dell’allievo. E tutti quelli che avevano avuto a che fare con Klein, in qualche modo, erano diventati suoi allievi. Anche quelli che lo odiavano. Tutti loro erano cambiati [Ideas have a sound, like metals. I read it years ago, but I do not remember where. Klein’s ideas must have re- sounded like brass bells for the Ente’s men. I imagined them more like mercury, quicksilver. Something alchemic capable of kickstarting a process of transformation. No one who came into contact with that notable man could seemly resist his transfigur- ing power. A power capable of unleashing the Black Work, the nigredo, the death of the self, the death of all personal aspirations of the pupil. And all which dealt with Klein, somehow, became his pupils. Including those who hated him. All changed] (Delta blues 61).

Tamerlano is no exception and he, too, falls under Klein’s spell — though the crucial difference is that he is poignantly aware of it, unlike most of the other characters, whom the nigredo overwhelms. Toward the end of the novel, Tamerlano realises that not much is left of his former self, which was destroyed during his journey towards the heart of the Delta. Having finally succeeded in finding Klein, Tamerlano reflects that he is not interested anymore in any reward the Ente may bestow upon him:

[c]apii che se avessi riportato a casa quell’uomo, mi avrebbero fatto capitano. Ma se lo avessi ritrovato morto sarebbe stato

meglio. E cos`ı era. Ma ormai la nigredo aveva fatto effetto, Tamerlano non c’era piu`. Al suo posto, riemerso da chiss`a quale abisso, un me stesso ancestrale. Dimenticato, riaffiorato dalle domande di Klein [I understood that if I had brought back that man, they would have promoted me to captain. But if I had found him dead, it would have been better. And so it was. But the nigredo had taken effect, Tamerlano was no more. In his place, emerged from who knows which abyss, an ancestral myself. Forgotten, resurfaced by Klein’s questions] (Delta blues 114).

Explicit references to nigredo or, as I referenced it in the methodological chapter, mourning, suggest that Kai Zen are aware of the cathartic poten- tial of experience and narrative. During our interview, Andreetto expressed the opinion that literature could elicit awareness of social and environmental problem even better than non-fiction. Thus, Tamerlano’s cathartic jour- ney from being an agent of the establishment through the hell of the Niger Delta to finding his true self may reflect and guide the reader’s journey from comfortable conformity and avoidant emotional coping through the dimly- lit backstages of civilisation toward the realisation of the true price of our petroleum-fueled prosperity.

1.4 Conclusion

Citizens of developed nations have grown accustomed to considering a high- powered lifestyle as a birthright so much that proposing limits to individual power usage has become politically toxic. Politicians hesitate to mention the gradual but cumulative and thus potentially catastrophic consequences of burning fossil fuels, including climate change, local pollution, and deaths related to energy production. Mass media fail to report on such issues be- cause slow violence does not conform with often sensationalist and superficial news reporting. Political interference in media and media interference with politics compounds the case, as certain media groups have been known to use their influence to affect political decisions through the manipulation of public opinion.

It is said in Zen archery that the real target of the arrow is not the maki- wara but the archer’s self (Herrigel 9 -Makiwara: straw practice target used in Zen archery). At the end of the Delta blues and at

the zenith of madness, Klein compiles a list of people he would like to assas- sinate because they are somehow implicated in the destruction of the Niger Delta. In the list, he includes his personal enemies as well as “gli indifferenti, i neutrali, perfino i volenterosi dal cuore puro come la dottoressa Altafonte di Lagos. Su su fino ai piu` intoccabili dirigenti, a Roma. Perch ́e tutti sono responsabili e per ciascuno, a suo tempo, arriver`a il redde rationem” [the indifferent, the neutral, even the pure-hearted and good-willed like Dr. Alta- fonte of Lagos. Up until the most untouchable executives, in Rome. Because all are culpable and for everyone, eventually will come the reckoning day] and even “[g]ente che ho conosciuto, che ho incontrato, che ho visto. Gente di cui ho solo sentito parlare, perch ́e no? Politici e saltimbanchi. Gente che vive nella convinzione che il conto lo paghi sempre qualcun altro” [people that I have known, that I have met, that I have seen. People that I have just heard about, why not? Politicians and mountebanks. People who live in the conviction that someone else will pay the bill] (Kai Zen, Delta blues 103, 109). The list of culprits worthy of death piles up dizzyingly in Klein’s sick mind, and the reader realises his madness. However, the suggestion remains that responsibility for the human and environmental disaster of the Niger Delta cannot be placed exclusively at the feet of the petroleum corporations. The arrow of guilt, ostensibly aimed at the target of the petroleum industry, hits back: “[c]osa succede quando, alla fine del giallo, scopro che l’assassino sono io? Perch ́e in effetti l’ENI in Nigeria sta causando morti, malattie, una piccola apocalisse. Ma l’ENI sono io, l’ENI `e una societa` a partecipazione statale.” [what happens at the end of the detective story when I find out that I am the murderer? But I am ENI, ENI is a government controlled com- pany] (Jadel Andreetto). The implication is clear: consumers, stakeholders and voters are to a certain degree responsible for the unethical behaviour of corporations operating in Nigeria.

It is undeniable that contemporary living is completely dependent on hydrocarbons. Il Contabile [the Accountant] gloatingly reminds the reader that “anche i signori che ce l’hanno con noi, gli ambientalisti, i pacifisti, i terzomondisti, anche loro usano l’energia [even the ladies and gentlemen who resent us, the environmentalists, the pacifists, the Third-Worldists — they, too, use energy]” (Kai Zen, Delta blues 27). However, this is a specious argu

ment. The fact that, as a society, we are dependent on fossil-fuel generated energy and materials does not preclude awareness, and awareness is the pre- cursor of change. Delta blues is a conscious attempt to raise important points about consumption and personal responsibility, acting as a counterbalance to the business-as-usual discourse. One of the reflections behind the novel is that,

noi come cittadini del mondo sviluppato non abbiamo percezione di ci`o che stiamo facendo all’altro, in questo caso la Nigeria, quando compiamo quotidianamente azioni a prima vista insignif- icanti come accendere il gas o fare il pieno alla macchina, perch ́e non abbiamo alcuna consapevolezza della catena che sta dietro a queste azioni [we as citizens of the developed world have no perception of what we are doing to the other (in this case Nige- ria) when we perform apparently insignificant daily activities like turning on the gas or filling up, because we have no cognition of the causal chain that lies behind these actions] (Jadel Andreetto).

Although Kai Zen are aware that literature has but a limited effect on society, Delta blues encourages readers’ empathy through its fully-rounded characters and by depicting realistically the environmental devastation of the Niger Delta. Thus, the Niger Delta ceases to be a far-away country of which we know nothing, and turns instead into the home of people to whom we can relate. In this way, Delta blues highlights the crimes that petroleum corporations commit in the name of profit and under the guise of maintain- ing power-hungry lifestyles. But the crimes of the petroleum corporations, though abominable, do not absolve consumers. Awareness of our individual role in the plight of the inhabitants of the Niger Delta sabotages our denial and forces us to face the underlying guilt — perhaps a path to healing the self and society.




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