My Escapism Wants Reality

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If you have almost three hours to spend on intellectual unpacking of Twilight, I highly recommend Natalie Wynn’s recent video on Twilight, escapist literature, sexual fantasy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, TERFs, the Dao, and much more! One of her contentions is that some critiques of the Twilight novels are misplaced because they conflate escapist literary fantasy with reality: Edward and Bella are not supposed to be a realistic blueprint for a healthy couple; they are supposed to a female-tilted romantic fantasy—fun escapism.

Her observations made me reflect on something that’s re-occurred to me over the years: my readerly “escapism” seems different from most people’s. The normative use of “escapism” seems to denote enjoying the unrealistic: the fantasy that Edward and Bella are a healthy couple, the idea that it can be sexy to be sexually assaulted, that it’s fun to be an assassin, etc. [1] But I’m one of those people who may often be caught kvetching that these works are not realistic and this makes them frustrating and stupid.

So do I just not read for escapism? Au contraire. The feeling of escaping into literature has been one of the highest pleasures of my life since I was very little. I’m a lifelong fantasy and science reader, and very rarely really enjoy novels set in the fairly recent real world. So I must be longing to escape some part of reality.

But what do I find escapist; i.e. what stories have carried me away into the catharsis of other worlds and other lives? Here’s a fairly random list of some of my A-list: The Brothers Karamazov, Great Expectations, The Lord of the Rings, the Iliad, Mirage of Blaze, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Last Unicorn, Trigun, Wuthering Heights (repeatedly referenced by Wynn). What do all of these works have in common, besides not being set in my contemporary real world? Well, they are all stories in which life is really hard, and it’s hard, in part, for internal psychological reasons that point to deficits in the main characters. And those psychological profiles make sense: they feel psychologically realistic. Read more… )

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About the author

Arwen Spicer
Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer is a science fiction writer and writing teacher raised in the San Fransciso Bay Area, and Northern California will hold her heart forever, even if it turns into a desert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on ecology in utopian science fiction and is an educator on the concept of workable utopias. Her novel The Hour before Morning was hailed as “A carefully paced, rewarding sci-fi debut” by Kirkus Indie.

Arwen Spicer By Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer is a science fiction writer and writing teacher raised in the San Fransciso Bay Area, and Northern California will hold her heart forever, even if it turns into a desert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on ecology in utopian science fiction and is an educator on the concept of workable utopias. Her novel The Hour before Morning was hailed as “A carefully paced, rewarding sci-fi debut” by Kirkus Indie.

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