MMLA 2018 Permanent Section American Literature after 1870

deadline for submissions: 
April 15, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Midwest Modern Language Association
contact email: 

Flesh For Fantasy: The Specter of Sexual Consumption in American Literature

From the lost girl of Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, to the hard-hearted Tralala of Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn, sex work and sex workers have often featured as prominent characters in American fiction. Not surprisingly, the critical work on prostitution and literature has often focused on the characterization of these figures and their relationship to the culture and history of their times. Much less, however, has been said about the portrayal of the clients in such narratives and how such portrayals often reinforce or challenge prevailing ideas about sex, gender, sex work, masculinity, sexual violence, sexual attraction, and economic exploitation. Furthermore, even less has been written about the ways in which the idea of sexual procurement and consumption, that is, the idea of literally or figuratively buying or selling the body of another, has haunted American fiction. By closely examining both the portrayal of the prostitute and the sex client in American literature after 1870, this panel seeks to provide a deeper understanding of the inherent contradictions informing our cultural understanding of what it means to sell, pay for, or trade in fantasy and flesh. We welcome papers on all aspects of sex work, prostitution, and procurement in American literature after 1870.

Questions and topics for consideration include but are not limited to:

  • What is distinctive about prostitution and its procurement in the American cultural or economic context? How does it change form one period to the next?
  • How do portrayals of the John reinforce or challenge social or psychological stereotypes of the pervert or the perverse.
  • What do depictions of the clients of prostitutes say about the nature of masculine desire, sexual violence, women’s oppression, capitalism, or the class nature of society?
  • In what ways have depictions of sex work influenced our cultural understanding of the Prostitute or the John. What can we learn from the many controversies surrounding such texts and their prohibition?
  • How do depictions of sex work by male authors differ from those of female authors?
  • In what ways have narratives of prostitution challenged the prevailing morals of the time. What can these depictions teach us about the way we currently think about prostitution?
  • How have metaphors of prostitution and procurement haunted American literature?
  • How do fictionalized portrayals of prostitution differ from autobiographical accounts

Please send abstracts of no more than 300words to by April 15, 2018