"Escape and its Discontents" at ACLA 2018
ACLA Conference 2018: March 29-April 1, Los Angeles
The ACLA's annual conferences have a distinctive structure in which most papers are grouped into twelve-person seminars that meet two hours per day for three days of the conference to foster extended discussion. Some eight-person (or smaller) seminars meet just the first two days of the conference.
CFP for Seminar: "Escape and its Discontents"
“I never hear the word ‘Escape’ / Without a quicker blood,” remarks Emily Dickinson. Our sociopolitical, theoretical, and literary dreams are often tinged with a desire for some kind of freedom from X: from systems of power within which we might suffer, from traditions and inheritances we find limiting, from subjugation or discrimination, from constraint, and from much more. The word “Escape” inspires, as Dickinson goes on to exclaim, “A sudden expectation— / A flying attitude!” And yet Dickinson’s poem also echoes a sentiment that a number of thinkers have shared: that the concept of escape is unhelpful, an agent of the cruelest of optimisms and a harbinger of apolitical tendencies. There is, the thought goes, no escape from the political and social realities that we find intolerable, nor from metaphysical systems of thought, nor from subjugation and constraint. As the final lines of Dickinson’s poem have it: “I tug childish at my bars / Only to fail again!”
This seminar seeks to revisit the concept of escape as well as its corollary: the inescapable. What possibilities do these terms open or close? Do those possibilities hold in our present moment, or are they most conducive in specific historically and culturally situated moments? And what about modes of thought that eschew the rhetoric of escape altogether and pursue a different model of change—or that even eschew “change”? Our goal is neither to disregard nor to champion “escape,” but rather to unspool some of its definitions and to interrogate some of its implications.
Such questions could be approached in and through sustained treatments of literary and/or theoretical texts. As Dickinson’s poem indicates, literary history is replete with reflections on and narratives of escape. So, too, is the field of theory. Many poststructuralist thinkers, for example, explore systems and structures that they characterize as inescapable (e.g. Derrida’s “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte” and his broader deconstruction of metaphysics; Foucault’s interest in panopticism and the carceral network more widely; Edelman’s critique of reproductive futurism), whereas their critics often use the same rhetoric to characterize such theories as a dead end (e.g. Jameson’s adoption of the phrase “the prison-house of language” to critique the linguistic turn; Nussbaum’s polemic against Butler’s theory of gender performativity; Muñoz’s critique of Edelman’s antisocial thesis as itself an imagined escape from relationality as well as from differences of race and gender).
We invite papers that explore the formal, rhetorical, affective, and political dimensions of escape and the inescapable from a range of historical fields, subject positions, and critical perspectives. Please feel welcome to contact Sumita Chakraborty (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Taylor Schey (email@example.com) with any questions. Abstract submissions of 250 words are due via the ACLA website by September 21 at 9 a.m. EST; follow the link here: https://www.acla.org/seminar/escape-and-its-discontents.