MMLA 2014 Special Session: "The City and the Open Road"

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Midwest Modern Language Association
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Call for papers for a special Session of the Midwest Modern Language Association conference, Nov. 13-16, 2014 in Detroit, MI.
Submission deadline: May 30.

"The City and the Open Road"

Few American cities and towns, especially in the Midwest, have survived the automotive era. In spite of decades of renewed interest in urbanism, the legacy of the last century's love of the open road remains: low-density suburban development, built up along highways and occasionally interrupted by what remains of formerly industrial towns and cities. The hollowing-out and carving-up of cities has exacerbated already existing problems of discrimination and segregation along lines of class and race, perhaps nowhere more evidently than in Detroit.

At the same time, the open road has long been associated in American literature and the popular imagination with youth, individual freedom, unbounded personal growth, and unlimited opportunities. Just as most road trips have an ultimate destination, the open road narrative lays out a teleological path towards individual self-discovery and transcendence. This narrative persists in spite of the drudgery, waste, and danger that characterize the daily automotive commute of millions of Americans.

This session seeks to better understand the role that the aestheticization and narrativization of the open road has played in undermining the value of the city, shaping public opinion about land use and transportation funding, and shaping personal decisions about modes of travel. Simultaneously, this session is open to exploring narratives, literary or not, that challenge the aesthetic of the open road or that resist the urban/open road dichotomy.

This panel is open to a variety of cultural and literary perspectives from multiple disciplines. Possible topics include:

-The open road narrative and public policy
-The open road as a means of suburban flight
-Critiques of the open road in literature
-Highways, automobiles, and individualism
-Travel narratives from different places and times
-The open road and sexuality
-Public/private boundaries in transportation
-Public transportation narratives
-Bicycling and walking narratives
-Cars, roads, and highways in film and song
-The open road and the railroad
-The invisibility/misrepresentation of suburbia in popular culture
-The open road as frontier narrative

Please send abstracts of 250-300 words to Joseph Montgomery,, by May 30.