Discrepant Solace: Contemporary Literature And The Work Of Consolation

Discrepant Solace: Contemporary Literature And The Work Of Consolation
by David James / / / PDF


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Consolation has always played an uncomfortable part in the literary history of loss. But in recent decades its affective meanings and ethical implications have been recast by narratives that appear at first sight to foil solace altogether. Illuminating this striking archive, Discrepant Solace considers writers who engage with consolation not as an aesthetic salve but as an enduring problematic, one that unravels at the centre of emotionally challenging works of late twentieth- and twenty-first-century fiction and life-writing. The book understands solace as a generative yet conflicted aspect of style, where microelements of diction, rhythm, and syntax capture consolation's alternating desirability and contestation. With a wide-angle lens on the contemporary scene, David James examines writers who are rarely considered in conversation, including Sonali Deraniyagala, Colson Whitehead, Cormac McCarthy, W.G. Sebald, Doris Lessing, Joan Didion, J. M. Coetzee, Marilynne Robinson, Julian Barnes, Helen Macdonald, Ian McEwan, Colm Toibin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Denise Riley, and David Grossman. These figures overturn critical suppositions about consolation's kinship with ideological complaisance, superficial mitigation, or dubious distraction, producing unsettling perceptions of solace that shape the formal and political contours of their writing. Through intimate readings of novels and memoirs that explore seemingly indescribable experiences of grief, trauma, remorse, and dread, James demonstrates how they turn consolation into a condition of expressional possibility without ever promising us relief. He also supplies vital traction to current conversations about the stakes of thinking with contemporary writing to scrutinize affirmative structures of feeling, revealing unexpected common ground between the operations of literary consolation and the urgencies of cultural critique. Discrepant Solace makes the close reading of emotion crucial to understanding the work literature does in our precarious present.

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