Apocalyptic Realisms: An Environmental Humanities Roundtable (MLA 2022)

deadline for submissions: 
March 1, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Rebecca Oh / MLA and ASLE
contact email: 

A non-guaranteed roundtable sponsored by the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) at MLA 2022.

The sixth extinction, ecological collapse, resource exhaustion, forced migration, megaslums, intensifying inequality, and every IPCC report suggest that apocalyptic futures have become the global present, that the end times are our times. But the new sense that the end of the world has arrived is old news for many, including residents of the global South, indigenous communities under settler colonialism, and the Black diaspora. How do aesthetic works that attend to longstanding processes of colonialism, capitalism, ecocide, and racism redefine our understanding of apocalypse? There has never been only one world, but many, and it is therefore necessary more than ever to attend to the histories of worldending that preceded and in many ways have subtended our present moment of crisis.

Rather than a universal future end, histories of apocalypse challenge us to diagnose the processes and mechanisms through which futurelessness has been produced and selectively imposed around the world, and to amplify social and aesthetic practices of resistance to these erasures. This roundtable invites papers that particularize and historize apocalypse, or that interrogate new conceptions of time, futurity, sociality, and world that belie apocalypse’s “sense of an ending” (Kermode).

Approaching apocalypse in this way brings to the fore the affordances of realism for our understandings of apocalypse. How does attending to realist depictions of apocalypse change our understanding of what counts as apocalypse, and how to conceptualize its experience, causes, and effects? In turn, how does apocalypse become a form of, or available to, realist modes of representation? How do realist narrative forms like the bildungsroman or realist genre conventions like mimesis, attention to the everyday, cognitive mapping, and social critique help us understand apocalypse as multiple and situated? Relatedly, have new kinds of realism, or expanded capacitates of realism, emerged to meet the challenges of conveying processes of apocalyptic destruction or conversely the resistance and survival that go on within sacrificed worlds?

This panel assumes that many apocalypses have already arrived, and that apocalypse is neither singular nor universal. How do realist works help us diagnose apocalypse or offer resources for enduring, resisting, and living both with and without hope after the end of a world? We invite papers that take up the ways in which realism redefines notions of apocalypse and the ways in which histories of apocalypse reshape or extend the possibilities of realism.

For consideration, send 300-word abstracts and short bios to rsoh@illinois.edu by March 1, 2021. Presenters are encouraged to identify one key aspect of realism or apocalypse that they can apply in brief to argue for the affordances of apocalyptic realism.


Works Cited

Kermode, Frank. The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction. Oxford UP, 1967.