The Politics of Escapism

deadline for submissions: 
March 20, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Modern Language Association
contact email: 

The Politics of Escapism

Panel at the 2021 MLA Convention

TOronto, DC, January 7-10, 2021


Greg Sharzer, University of Toronto (; Keith O'Regan, York
University (

Escapism, the desire to abandon a difficult present for an ideal alternative,

often manifests in times of social, political, economic or cultural crisis. Yet
its appearance in media and popular consciousness is often dismissed by critical
theorists as an inadequate response to the magnitude of the crisis. Escapism is
defined simultaneously and paradoxically by both a lack, and superfluity of
imagination; both are counterposed to a rationalist, realist, appropriate
response of confronting and coming to terms with the problem directly. The
dogma of appropriateness invalidates the Escapist desire solely by validating
its own presuppositions, in the process degenerating into a demobilizing
moralism. In contrast, this panel seeks to examine how Escapism is useful in
three ways: how it can be understood as a rational response to a crisis, how
its forms illuminate not only the immediacy of the crisis but its origins, and
how contemporary escapism can be harnessed by critical theorists to formulate
anti-hegemonic strategies.

Some questions worth engaging, but not limited to, in this regard are:

How can we envision escapist narratives that not only have a response rooted in
practicality, but also involve collective responses as opposed to individual

What have cultural producers attempted to escape from, and how has this
determined the nature of their escape?

Which strategies have defined modern escapism from its antecedents?

What defines progressive escapism against conservative, nostalgic forms?

How is an escapist response to neoliberal austerity useful?

How does escapism define oppositional structures of feeling?

In what ways can escapism inform a strategy of resistance?

What do contemporary forms of escapism tell us about the nature of neoliberal

Call for Papers for a panel at the Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Convention, January 7-10, 2021 in Toronto. Please send 200-word abstracts and bios by March 20, 2020 to Keith O'Regan ( Responses to individual submissions will be sent out by late March. All prospective presenters must be current MLA members by no later than April 2020.