James, David (University of Birmingham)
What can contemporary medical memoir tell us about the relationship between consolation and care? To what extent does the encounter between carers and patients point to the complexities of consolation’s own multidirectional nature, as the caregiver gains gratitude and fulfilment from affording solace to a person in pain or facing loss? And how might this apparent emotional gain illuminate the ethical dimensions of, and tensions within, the literary representation of consolation itself, especially in works that move beyond biomedical frameworks of clinical intervention to advocate more affectively attuned practices of care? To pursue these questions, I want to entertain literature itself, as many of the papers in this conference will no doubt do, as a kind of epistemic resource in its own right, one that reckons with the fraught relationship between consolation’s lived experience and its aesthetic expression. By turning to life-writing by healthcare activists like Rachel Clarke and Christie Watson, I examine how the very articulation of care in clinical contexts has wrestled with that ethically loaded matter of who, exactly, is consoled in the patient-practitioner encounter. I hope this line of inquiry will allow us to reprise larger metacritical questions that are germane to the conference as a whole: Namely, is the implied recipient of solace also automatically its beneficiary? How does literary form mediate the contours of consolation’s dramatization? And when we as readers aren’t necessarily invited to participate in a text’s diegetic instances of solace, who gets to estimate let alone gauge the efficacy of consolation’s reconstruction through literary representation?
David James is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University of Birmingham, before which he was Reader in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Queen Mary, University of London. His recent books include Modernist Futures (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and Discrepant Solace: Contemporary Literature and the Work of Consolation (Oxford University Press, 2019). He has edited numerous books, including The Legacies of Modernism (Cambridge University Press, 2012), The Cambridge Companion to British Fiction since 1945 (Cambridge University Press, 2015), and, most recently, Modernism and Close Reading (Oxford University Press, 2020). For Columbia University Press he co-edits the book series ‘Literature Now’, and is the Editor for British and world Anglophone writing at the journal Contemporary Literature.He is currently completing Sentimental Activism (forthcoming with Columbia University Press), a book about the politics of compassion and solicitation in pathography, poverty fiction, and refugee writing.
Angelaki, Vicky (Mid Sweden University)
Theatre, Community and Climate Consolation
In the last two decades, as the climate crisis has accelerated, and as our collective vocabularies for addressing the issue have evolved from the early days of “global warming” to the more direct “climate change” and the even more literal “climate crisis” and “climate emergency”, theatre, as both text and performance, has been making considerable strides in addressing the issue. It has done so by incorporating the environment, nature and climate – and cross-combinations of these concerns – as a primary theme, as we have been noticing in the work of numerous contemporary playwrights, companies and directors. It has also developed more ways of incorporating sustainability and responsibility not only to the plot of the play, but, also, to the very staging methodologies that are increasingly often curated with the guiding principle of reducing footprint and emissions, and generally offsetting the environmental impact of performance through the tools available – as well as formulating novel ways of staging, seeing and engaging. I propose that an incentive towards such developments is not only the capturing of the emergency, but, also, the imperative to provide, for audiences who are of course also citizens experiencing shifting ecologies, arguably with a degree of complicity, a site for reflection, community and, indeed, recognition and consolation in the face of crisis.
The paper will concentrate on a selection of Anglophone plays and performances from the past five years which have prioritised the environment, and the non-human world broadly conceived in such ways, promoting active agency amongst spectatorial communities and highlighting the interventionist role of performance. I will discuss the function of theatre in creating interspaces, which may be defined as sites of possibility that operate within the dramaturgy of the play, but, also, within the site of encounter of the audience. I will especially concentrate on plays by female-identifying authors, who have reconceptualised the eco-feminist creative framework in the twenty-first century.
Vicky Angelaki is Professor in English Literature at Mid Sweden University (Department of Humanities and Social Sciences). She was previously based in the United Kingdom for a number of years (Birmingham City University; University of Birmingham; University of Reading). Major publications include the monographs Martin Crimp’s Power Plays: Intertextuality, Sexuality, Desire (2022); Theatre & Environment (2019); Social and Political Theatre in 21st-Century Britain: Staging Crisis (2017); The Plays of Martin Crimp: Making Theatre Strange (2012) and the edited collection Contemporary British Theatre: Breaking New Ground (2013; 2016). She co-edits the series Adaptation in Theatre and Performance (Palgrave Macmillan, with Kara Reilly). She is currently working on the research project Performing Interspaces: Social Fluidities in Contemporary Theatre, funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (Sweden). The project will result in an open-access monograph, contracted with Palgrave Macmillan/Springer.
Bayer, Gerd (Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)
Apologies, Gratitude, Consolation: Jenny Diski’s Writing as Moral Reckoning
Jenny Diski used her biography extensively in her writing, both when it comes to her fiction and quite openly in her essayistic and life writing. Starting from her early novels and continuing in her final publication, In Gratitude (2016), Diski raises painful topics, ranging from obsessive and disturbing mental mindsets to dealing with a cancer diagnosis. As her essayistic writing in particular demonstrates, however, the author remained upbeat – at least in her publications – about the various challenges that she had met with in her life. And it was in particular through the acts of both reading and writing that Diski managed to negotiate what appeared to be a peaceful way of reacting to negative experiences. For Diski, writing clearly is a form of consolation. This presentation will discuss how Diski not only uses writing as a form of cure – for instance in her last novel, Apology for the Woman Writing (2008), about Marie de Gournay – but also as an explicit topic within her books. Diski frequently ruminates about what writing does for her and others, how her engagement with silence and reading supports her thinking, and how it is through an engagement with others via their textual selves (with Doris Lessing, her foster mother, featuring quite prominently) that Diski reaches a state that, for her, is marked by a feeling of gratitude.
Gerd Bayer has published on the postmodern and contemporary novel, postcolonial studies, Holocaust studies, genre, epistolarity and early modern prose fiction. He is the author of Novel Horizons: The Genre Making of Restoration Fiction (Manchester UP, 2016) and the co-editor, amongst others, of: Gerd Bayer and Rudolf Freiburg, eds., The Ethics of Survival in Contemporary Literature and Culture (Palgrave, 2021); Gerd Bayer and Florian Kläger, eds., Early Modern Constructions of Europe: Literature, Culture, History (Routledge, 2016); and Gerd Bayer and Oleksandr Kobrynskyy, eds., Holocaust Cinema in the Twenty-First Century: Images, Memory, and the Ethics of Representation (Columbia University Press, 2015). A recent essay on Jenny Diski was published by a/b: Auto/Biography Studies.
Cesto, Gina (University of Paris Nanterre)
Consoling the Untold: Suturing Filial Wounds in Andrea Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon (1999)
Can family trees conceal unexpected barks? Andrea Levy, the daughter of Jamaican migrants who settled in England in 1948, confesses in an interview (2014) to Sarah O’Reilly how the life of her parents inspired her narratives and questioned her own Britishness. While Levy was born in London in 1956, this Highbury child expresses how being born Black in England blurred her familial and cultural history. While W.E.B. Du Bois (1903) qualified African-Americans as inheritors of a “double-consciousness”, Levy’s British experience refutes this argument “If you are English, you have a sense of who you are. That comes culturally through you. When you come from the outside, when your parents come from outside, that sense is lost” – a lost sense transmitted by her parents which ultimately forced Levy to find it, as she never considered herself as Black before attending college. While Levy, in her thirties, enrolls on a writing course and has to write about her family, the author is once more faced with this unknown history and admits that “writing came to [her] rescue”.
Levy’s journey towards her Jamaican heritage was thus initiated by writing, which pushed her to travel to Jamaica – a trajectory that was also undertaken in Fruit of the Lemon by Faith, Levy’s fictional character who decides to go to her native island after experiencing racism in England. Assembling leaves from a distorted family tree, Faith’s story-telling reminds the author’s own encounter with an untold past. This paper explores literature as an author’s consolatory need for a curative past. I propose to analyze consolation through two spectrums: consolation as an out-of-space moment of rest through travelling, and consolation as a cathartic confession giving form to a post-diary allowing transtemporal reflections and circular movements reconnecting Faith and Levy to their British and Caribbean identities and temporalities.
Gina Cesto is a Doctoral Student and Teaching Fellow in Anglophone literature at University of Paris Nanterre. Her research is dedicated to the significant place of Caribbean literature within the postcolonial field. Her dissertation entitled “Caliban Migrating, Caliban Settling: the (post)Windrush generations and the “right to the city” in the works of George Lamming and Andrea Levy. Literary memory, (photo)graphic history and museum interventions” explores the role of migrant novels and photography in the restitution of the history of the Windrush since 1948 up to the Windrush Scandal (2018), apprehending Britain’s relation to its Caribbean counterparts and the latter’s adaptation to British metropolitan life.
Chemmachery, Jaine (Sorbonne Université)
Consolation in The Fortune Men (2021) by Nadifa Mohamed: fiction as consolatory practice?
Mohamed’s latest novel is predicated upon a famous miscarriage of justice: Mahmood Mattan, a Somali migrant, was wrongly accused of murdering Lily Volpert (Violet Volacki in the novel) and sentenced to death in 1952 Cardiff. The object of the paper will be to analyse the consolatory dimension of the fiction under study. In Literature and Consolation, Jürgen Pieters discusses how literature has been recurrently said to have “comforting potential” and asks: “how does the comfort we derive from reading literary texts differ from other types of consolation?” (2021, 14). While the text resurrects to some extent Mahmood Mattan, who is the result both of archival research and fictional exploration In the novel, the death of the character in Mohamed’s fiction directly echoes what happened in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay in 1952, i.e. the hanging of Mahmood Mattan. Even if the wrongful conviction and execution of Mattan was the first miscarriage “ever rectified by a British court,” the consolatory effect of the official apology should be pondered. Mohamed’s novel offers an alternative type of consolation, echoing what Foessel wrote about the concept – consolation does not put an end to our suffering but offers a supplement to our unhappiness (Foessel 2015). Mohamed’s fiction makes it possible for readers to publicly acknowledge, and potentially mourn, the death of Mahmood Mattan. Reading Mohamed’s fiction makes us “comfortably unsettled” (Pieters 248): the novel creates a space where grief is understood to be experienced by a multitude and resonates with(in) the reading community shaped by Mohamed’s novel.
Jaine Chemmachery is Senior Lecturer in Postcolonial Literatures at Sorbonne Université. She wrote her PhD dissertation on R. Kipling’s and S. Maugham’s short stories on Empire and the relation between colonialism, modernity and the genre of the short story (2013). Her main research fields are colonial and postcolonial literatures, Victorian and Neo-Victorian literatures, and modernity. Her current research focuses on mobility studies, body studies and the representation of precarity/precariousness in literature. In 2021, she co-edited with Bhawana Jain a collected volume on mobility and corporeality in Anglophone literature (19-21st centuries) and edited an issue of the journal Commonwealth Essays and Studies on the topic of “Renaissance”.
Coste, Marion (Sorbonne Université)
Damage Has Been Done: Atoning for the Iraq War on the British Stage
Tony Blair’s decision to commit troops to invade Iraq in March 2003 created a rift in British society and sparked heated debates about the legality of the military intervention. Being chiefly left-wing, the British theatrical institution opposed the war and strived to denounce the government’s lies about the presence weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the absence of planning and the unpreparedness of the troops. In the troubled times following the invasion of Iraq, British stages aimed at creating spaces of discussion and incubators for political action: spectators who felt wronged by the government were invited to find solace together, in the community of like-minded people that the theatrical experience creates. This paper will examine how theatre aims at staging processes of reparation and consolation through the analysis of three plays created by journalist Richard Norton-Taylor: Called to Account (2007) which represents the trial of Tony Blair for the crime of aggression against Iraq, Tactical Questioning (2011) based on the Baha Mousa Inquiry, and Chilcot (2016) which stages the Iraq Inquiry.
Atoning for the war on stage means both revealing the errors of the government and creating a state of at-onement, of being at one or reconciled. The relational dimension of the theatrical experience is therefore at the core of the consolation it aims to provide, as it articulates individuals and community. I would however like to argue that the reparation offered by the theatre of the war in Iraq is an exclusionary form of consolation, which, as defined by Foessel, should be deeply concerned with otherness (2015, 28). The process of reparation represented on stage is mainly reserved to the British people: the plays hold the government to account but seem to ignore the other, main, victims of the war, the Iraqi people.
Marion Coste is a former student from the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, where she studied from 2010 to 2015 and passed the Agrégation in English in 2013. A member of the research unit VALE at Sorbonne University, she has defended her PhD thesis, “Immediate history in theatre: Representations of the Iraq war in contemporary British plays”, in December 2022 under the supervision of Elisabeth Angel-Perez. She is also the editor of the website La Clé des langues, co-founded by the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon and the Ministère de l’Éducation nationale.
Courtois, Cédric (University of Lille)
(In)consolation through Excavation in Yewande Omotoso’s An Unusual Grief (2022)
Yewande Omotoso’s An Unusual Grief focuses on a Nigerian couple whose daughter has committed suicide. As the mother excavates objects from her daughter’s flat to try and make sense of what her life was like until her death and why she committed suicide, she fails to find a satisfying answer but is prompted to ponder over her own life and her couple’s broken relationship.
The death of a loved one resists meaning and contributes to breaking chronology, linearity, and the order of language. To quote David James, “we are in a historical moment when novelists and memoirists are confronting consolation’s contested legitimacy […] by locating that contestation in the anatomy of form”. An Unusual Grief mirrors this through the devices of fragmentation and interruption. While the mother desperately searches for her daughter’s drawings, which, she believes, will provide answers about her suicide, the father follows his psychologist’s advice to write a diary to try and compensate for what cannot be orally expressed when grieving. The father’s journaling experience through grief may be compared to Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary, which points to the therapeutic and healing power of expressive writing. Both the father and the mother hope to find solace through what could be called “detective work”, or forensic work, that also implies, in the case of the mother, a form of archaeological work into her daughter’s life.
In this paper, I aim to delve into the ways Omotoso tackles the issue of (in)consolation through excavation: can this “detective work” / excavation lead to any form of comfort or solace? How do (traumatic) loss and the ensuing grief and mourning impact language and the form of the novel itself? Following David James, I will explore the ways in which “solace”, as presented in Omotoso’s novel, “shares some traits with what LaCapra and other trauma theorists have associated with ‘working through’”.
Cédric Courtois is Senior Lecturer in Anglophone studies at the University of Lille, France. He specialises in Nigerian literature, which was the focus of his PhD dissertation on the contemporary Nigerian rewritings of the Bildungsroman. He has published various articles and book chapters on mobility studies, refugee literature, LGBTQIA+ studies, etc. Among his recent publications are “Visibilizing ‘Those Who Have No Part’: LGBTQIA+ Representation in Contemporary Nigerian Fiction in English” (2022) for Études anglaises, “‘Into the Mutation’: Osahon Ize-Iyamu’s ‘More Sea than Tar’ as Climate Fiction” (2021) for Commonwealth Essays and Studies, or “Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Black’ British Amazons: Aesthetics and Politics in Girl, Woman, Other” (2021) for Études britanniques contemporaines.
Gagneret, Diane (University of Lyon 1 Claude Bernard)
“‘a watering of her desert’: Depression and (Dis)Consolation in Jenny Diski’s Monkey’s Uncle”
“I don’t feel compelled to tell comfortable stories”: such is Jenny Diski’s own introduction to her work, a direct and daring exploration of many facets of human experience,including the most traumatic. However, the comforting powers of uncomfortable stories are not to be dismissed or excluded from critical consideration since, as pointed out by David James, “consolation also maps the affectively rocky ground we may yet need to cross”and much of this mapping unfolds in literature.
Diski’s 1994 novel Monkey’s Uncle, charting a middle-aged woman’s descent into madness and depression following two cataclysmic events, one private (the loss of her daughter in a car accident) and the other public (the fall of the Berlin Wall), qualifies as one of these works that seem all about inconsolability, yet invite a reflection on what James calls “discrepant solace”. This paper will dwell on just how contentious the notion of consolation reveals itself to be in a narrative which, through the close examination and interrogation of experiences of loss and mourning, seems to foster disconsolation – understood alternately as dismissal of, diversion from and reversal of expected consolatory practices and effects. To Charlotte FitzRoy, Diski’s protagonist, the loss of her political ideals causes more suffering than that of her own flesh and blood; the relentless despair experienced in depression becomes “a comforting trench into which she could curl safely”; and no amount of therapy can match the reading and re-reading of the book she immerses herself, and the readers into. The novel may thus offer itself as an example of the art of (dis)consolation, redefining experiences such as that of depression and the subversive potential of their literary treatment.
Diane Gagneret has completed a PhD in English literature at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon. She is a member of IHRIM (Institut d’Histoire des Représentations et des Idées dans les Modernités) and teaches medical and scientific English at University of Lyon 1 Claude Bernard. Her research, drawing mainly on works by Jenny Diski, Janet Frame, Sarah Kane, Ian McEwan, Anthony Neilson and Will Self, focuses on the links between madness and issues of genre and gender in contemporary English novels, plays and short stories. Other articles on Jenny Diski’s work include “Folles à (dé)lier: Folie, féminité et subversion chez Janet Frame et Jenny Diski” (2019), and “‘This is a Place of Madness’: Borderline Stories in Jenny Diski’s Monkey’s Uncle” (to be published).
Gibert, Teresa (UNED Madrid)
Desolation and Consolation in Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin
Desolation and consolation play a key role in Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (2000), a multi-layered novel which consists to a large extent of the fictional memoir written by Iris Chase, its eighty-two-year-old protagonist and first-person narrator as well as the author of an embedded novella. Suffering is concomitant with all the life stages of Iris, from childhood into adolescence, persisting in her adulthood, and also filling her old age. Through the pages of her confessional memoir she depicts herself as being afflicted by a long series of misfortunes, including the untimely death of her mother, her father’s post-traumatic stress disorder as a WWI veteran, her family’s bankruptcy, her sister’s mental illness and eventual suicide, her unhappy marriage of convenience, her hapless love affair, and her estrangement from her daughter and granddaughter. Although she is keenly aware of other people’s need to be consoled, she is frank enough to acknowledge that she has not always provided the affective support expected from her and bitterly regrets her destructive lack of empathy. Even in the midst of the most tragic episodes she experiences, Iris refuses to remain inconsolable. In the face of sorrow sometimes she seeks comfort and reassurance from those close to her heart, and on other occasions she rejects the emotional help she is being offered by those she distrusts. But, above all, in the periods of bereavement or of loneliness caused by grief she tends to find solace in literature both as a reader and as a writer. At last, when she feels her final days approaching, she resorts to one of the best consolatory acts which a creative artist can perform: she reviews her past in detail through recollection and conveys her existence by means of a life narrative, verbalizing her distress and alternatively choosing what to remember and what to forget.
Teresa Gibert is Professor of English at the UNED (Madrid), where she teaches American and Canadian literature. Her publications on Margaret Atwood include journal articles in Miscelánea. A Journal of English and American Studies, ES Review, and Journal of English Studies together with essays in collected volumes such as Women Ageing through Literature and Experience (Universitat de Lleida, 2005), Short Story Theories: A Twenty-First-Century Perspective (Rodopi, 2012), Traces of Aging. Old Age and Memory in Contemporary Narrative (Transcript Verlag, 2016), Representing Wars from 1860 to the Present: Fields of Action, Fields of Vision (Brill/Rodopi, 2018), and Frankenstein Revisited: The Legacy of Mary Shelley’s Masterpiece (Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca, 2018). Furthermore, she contributed to The Cambridge History of Canadian Literature (Cambridge UP, 2009) with the chapter “‘Ghost Stories’: Fictions of History and Myth.”
Lecomte, Héloïse (ENS de Lyon)
Discomforting Consolation: Salena Godden’s Elegy in Mrs Death Misses Death
Illustrating critics’ definition of the contemporary era as the apex of “crisis fiction” (Horton 2014), the plotline of Salena Godden’s debut novel Mrs Death Misses Death (2021) engages with defining moments of collective grief or suffering such as the Black Lives Matter movement, harrowing flashbacks of the 2017 Grenfell Fire, eco-anxiety and the Covid-19 pandemic. Thus set in a contextual frame saturated by grief, the work creates a dialogue between a young writer named Wolf Willeford and the towering figure of Mrs Death, who has decided to share her stories and have her memoirs ghost-written. The product of this collaboration is an intricate journey through time which carves a space of mourning for collective heroes but also the invisible and the undervalued, thus levelling the field of grievability. Indeed, as she replaces the legendary figure of the Grim Reaper with that of an elderly black beggar woman, a “rubbish collector” who “collect[s] spirits up and carr[ies] all those burdens away” (Godden 152), Godden humanises Death and gives her a central role in her transgenerational and transgeneric elegy, which weaves together song-writing, poetry, fiction and non-fiction.
My aim in this article is to analyse Godden’s work as a combination of private and public grief that redefines the traditional definition of the elegy as a ‘poem of mortal loss and consolation’ (Sacks 1987, 3). The book’s role as a material object is acknowledged by the author in sections that bookend the narrative and address the reader. The last section of this haunted book poetically doubles as a “private ritual” space of collective mourning and remembrance for victims of the Covid-19 pandemic (Godden 302). Through a foregrounding of acts of care, the work both embraces vulnerability and showcases its powers of relationality, all the while remaining deeply ambiguous about the very possibility or desirability of consolation.
Héloïse Lecomte has completed a PhD on contemporary British and Irish fiction and currently teaches English at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon. Her research themes are the narrative and fictional representations of mourning and their dialogue with poetic, musical and visual elegies and she is now working on the representation of consolation in contemporary anglophone literature. Together with Alice Borrego, Dr Gero Guttzeit and Prof. Esther Peeren, she is the co-organiser of the international interdisciplinary seminar ‘Invisible Lives, Silent Voices’ and she co-edited with Alice Borrego the issue of the journal Études britanniques contemporaines entitled “Invisible Lives, Silent Voices”.
Miroux, Franck (Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès)
Consoling the inconsolable? Writing, telling and persistent pain in Robert Arthur Alexie’s Porcupines and China Dolls
Porcupines and China Dolls, published in 2002 by Gwich’in writer and activist Robert Arthur Alexie, focuses on two young Dene men in their mid-thirties who are struggling with the consequences of residential schooling. They have developed all kinds of addictive and dysfunctional behaviours, and the unrelenting rage consuming them undermines any effort to move beyond their pain or regain agency. Although they eventually decide to speak publicly about the sexual abuse they suffered at the school, and manage to have their rapist convicted for his crimes, one of them keeps reproducing the same violence which has shaped his entire life since he was forcibly removed from his family and community.
This paper endeavours to show how Alexie’s novel proposes a narrative challenging the prevalent idea of reconciliation as closure and healing. Studying extracts from the novel will allow to prove that, as David James contends (James 2019), consolatory discourses do not guarantee full recovery, but may even bring more pain by exposing too deep a wound to be mended. This paper will also stress that the notion of inconsolability is a core issue in a narrative essentially concerned with the acceptance of loss; the loss of something the heroes can never truly retrieve. However, if consolatory texts carry the hope, and not the certainty, that words can have a soothing effect (Martin-Ulrich 2017), it is also possible to argue that Alexie’s novel might offer some degree of consolation in the end. After all, famous Tłı̨chǫ Dene writer Richard Van Camp once described it as “hard but good medicine.” As we shall see, it all depends on the perspective one adopts about concepts such as consolation and medicine. As a matter of fact, many North American Indigenous critics have warned that the notion of healing, as defined according to European standards, offers many pitfalls when applied to Indigenous suffering (Milloy 1999; Chrisjohn & al. 2006). Consequently, this paper will rather draw on a vision of healing more attuned to Indigenous realities. It will also focus on the notion of recovery not as the possibility to dispel the symptoms of psychic pain, but as a dynamic process concerned with empowerment and regaining agency over how one’s personalstory is told (Pachoud 2018). Doing so will allow to move beyond the anger and cynicism that seem to characterise the novel in order to explore the generative and regenerative potential of Alexie’s harrowing narrative.
Franck Miroux teaches French to English/English to French translation and North American studies at the Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour as “professeur agrégé.” In May 2022, he defended a doctoral dissertation on the Indian residential schools of Canada (Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, supervisor: Héliane Ventura). His Ph.D. explores historical, social and fictional aspects of Indian residential school narratives. He has published several articles and chapters on Indigenous education systems in North America, as well as on novels by First Nations writers such as Tomson Highway, Richard Wagamese and Joséphine Bacon. In 2020, he co-edited a book entitled Les pratiques de vérité et de réconciliation dans les sociétés émergeant de situations violentes ou conflictuelles, Institut Francophone pour la Justice et la Démocratie (pub.).
Misrahi-Barak, Judith (University Paul Valéry Montpellier 3)
Drifting as Consolation in Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost
I would like in this paper to focus on Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost, a novel that deals with the exhumation and identification of bones in the context of a civil war. Sent by a human rights group to investigate mass burials during the Civil war, Sri Lankan-born and North American-educated Anil Tissera returns from her diasporic abode as a forensic anthropologist after 15 years away. The novel has been the object of innumerable analyses, through many different angles. I intend to respond to one of the criticisms that has often been levelled at Ondaatje, that Anil’s Ghost meanders along too many digressions and is “drifting (…) away from the book’s essential business in Sri Lanka” (Maslin 2000, 11). This paper will investigate what can be referred to as literary drifting and I will offer the hypothesis that such drifting is the route the novel takes to steal its readers from desolation (from the Latin de-, thoroughly + solus, alone) to consolation (from the Latin consolari, con- + sōlārī, to solace, to soothe). If the novel has been interpreted as a descent into the underworld, or katabasis (Herrick 2016), it seems a horizontal, rhizomatic reading approach could also be quite potent. I will argue that, far from diverting us from the main forensic purpose of the book, Ondaatje’s literary drifting contributes to creating a new space and time for the desolate, the unconsoled and the inconsolable, as if solace could only be found somewhere in between a symbolic court of law (forensis) and a public space to be shared by all (forum).
Judith Misrahi-Barak, a former student at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Fontenay-aux-Roses), is Professor in Postcolonial Studies at University Paul Valéry Montpellier 3, France, where she teaches English and postcolonial literatures. Her prime areas of specialization are Caribbean and Indo- and Sino-Caribbean literatures in English, diaspora and migrant writing, as well as, more recently, Dalit literatures. Her latest publications are a chapter on Edwidge Danticat’s short stories (Bloomsbury Handbook on Edwidge Danticat,2021); an article on Jan Lowe Shinebourne in a Special Issue of The Caribbean Quarterly on Sino-Caribbean literature(2021); Kala pani Crossings: Revisiting 19th century Migrations from India’s Perspective (co-edited with Ashutosh Bhardwaj, Routledge, 2021); The Routledge Companion to Caste and Cinema in India (co-edited with Joshil K. Abraham, Routledge, 2022); and an article on Edwidge Danticat’s writing of the refugee in The Journal of the short Story in English (2023). Her monograph in French entitled Entre Atlantique et océan Indien: les voix de la Caraïbe anglophone was published with Classiques Garnier (Paris, 2021). She is General Editor of the series PoCoPages (Pulm, Montpellier).
Moseley, Merritt (University of North Carolina at Asheville)
Perverse Consolation in Ali Smith’s The Accidental
If “consolation” derives from an Old French word that means “solace, comfort, delight, pleasure,” then it may seem bizarre to call Amber, the mysterious catalyst of Ali Smith’s The Accidental (2005) a consoler. Her methods are apparently unconsoling—insult, destruction of property, violence, possible burglary, and something close to statutory rape. Yet Amber’s effect on the Smart family is initial discomfiture leading to eventual and somewhat paradoxical consolation. This distinguishes it sharply from its intertext, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1968 film Teorema, in which the irruption into a family of a mysterious stranger proceeds quite differently. Operating through love, or at least sex, he ruins the bourgeois family’s lives. As the father says, “You must have come here to destroy.” Amber’s more vigorous and surprising methods leave the family members perversely consoled, possibly even saved.
The story of Amber’s impact on the Smarts is bookended and interleaved by four first-person accounts of her conception (in a cinema theater) and birth, the history of the motion pictures and of both the Alhambra Theater for which she is named and the Alhambra Palace in Granada. These seem designed at least in part to illustrate the consolatory powers of art, especially in the age of cinema palaces like the Alhambra. As Alhambra the woman and/or the palace and/or the movie theater promises, “I’m everything you ever dreamed.”
Merritt Moseley is an Emeritus Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is the author of critical books on David Lodge, Kingsley Amis, Julian Barnes, Michael Frayn, Jonathan Coe (the last four published at the University of South Carolina Press), and Pat Barker (The Fiction of Pat Barker (Readers’ Guide to Essential Criticism).His latest monograph is A History of the Booker Prize. Contemporary Fiction since 1992 (Routledge, 2021). He is the editor of volumes on British and Irish novelists since 1960, Booker Prize novels, and the academic novel.
Pieters, Jürgen (Ghent University Belgium)
“The sacrifice of mourning”: Denise Riley’s “A Part Song”
In this paper I want to confront Denise Riley’s essay Time Lived, Without its Flow with the central poem-cycle in her collection Say Something Back, “A Part Song”. More specifically, I will be interested in what Riley writes in the essay about “the possibility of a ‘literature of a consolation’”. I want to think through what Riley says about the use of metrical verse as a means to create the mechanism of “preservation through replacement” that she considers the lynchpin of the experience of mourning. A further exploration of Riley’s reference to Freud’s analysis of the work of mourning in Time Lived, Without its Flow will be helpful in my attempt to read the poem as a “sacrificial memorial”. I borrow the latter concept from the French psychoanalyst Jean Allouch (“le sacrifice du deuil”) and from the discussion of Allouch’s concept in the work of the French novelist Philippe Forest, who has written about the same devastating experience that is central to Riley’s essay and poems: the loss of a child. In relating “A Part Song” to Forest’s analysis of what he calls “une poétique de deuil”, I want to pay attention to the generic specificity of Riley’s text and focus on the lyrical figure of apostrophe (cf. Jonathan Culler), whose force of “animation” may well be the distinctive characteristic that sets apart Riley’s literature of consolation from Forest’s prose.
Jürgen Pieters is a professor of literature at Ghent University Belgium, where he teaches courses on literary theory, the history of poetics and creative criticism. His most recent book is Literature and Consolation. The Comforts of Fiction (Edinburgh University Press, 2021; paperback: 2023). He is working on a new book that explores issues of bibliotherapy, literature and medicine and health humanities.
Ritzka, Kathrin (Institute for Catholic Theology, Humboldt-University of Berlin)
Religious Residues and Consolation in the Works of Denise Riley and Julian Barnes
Consolation is a central motif of Christianity; religious aspects have shaped Western concepts of consolation for centuries (e.g., the assumption that life on earth filled with pain and suffering is temporary, the belief in an afterlife). My paper explores how these religious themes influence notions of consolation in the works of two contemporary British authors, Denise Riley and Julian Barnes. I argue that in the context of secularization, religious approaches to solace, while certainly declining, live on in unexpected ways. They serve as a negative contrast upon which revised concepts of consolation are developed. This unfavorable view of religious aspects may reflect the common criticism of religion which posits that it offers nothing more than false comfort. Julian Barnes, in his memoir Levels of Life, describes how consolatory Christian “patterns,” such as that of a God who views the world from above, are no longer accepted. This is reflected in one of the book’s three sections, which tells the story of Nadar, who, by taking aerial photographs from a balloon, adopts a divine perspective – thus providing an alternative “pattern.” Moreover, religious themes are inverted into their opposite, serving a different purpose compared to their original use. In Denise Riley’s prose work Time Lived, Without Its Flow, aspects and motifs that traditionally concern existence in the afterlife are used to describe the present and this-worldly state of the mourners (e.g. atemporality and allusions to the sensation of a this-worldly resurrection of the body). Both works adapt traditional religious concepts to contemporary notions of death as a material and finite process. The use of metaphysical terms and concepts (albeit without a metaphysical orientation) seems to serve as a strategy to articulate the unspeakable within the framework of the secular.
Kathrin Ritzka is a research assistant at the Institute for Catholic Theology, Humboldt- University of Berlin. Previously, she studied theology and German literature in Freiburg (B.A.), Cambridge (MPhil) and Berlin (M.A.). During her studies she was supported by the German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes). For her MPhil, she received an Arts and Humanities Research Council award and a Cambridge European Scholarship by the Cambridge Trust.
Rumsey, Lacy (ENS de Lyon)
Prosody as consolation: rhythmic vs. cultural work
That poetry can exert consolatory power on its receiver is a truism, articulated as early as Hesiod (“Even if someone who has unhappiness in his newly anguished spirit is parched in his heart with grieving, yet when a poet, servant of the Muses, sings of the glorious deeds of people of old and the blessed gods who possess Olympus, he forgets his sorrows at once” – Theogony, trans. Glenn W. Most). It is almost as truistic to note that rhythm has the potential to contribute greatly to that consolatory power. Rhythm’s consolatory potential is likely to inhere, on the most fundamental level, in its creation, for the listener, of patterns of expectation and satisfaction, as well as of echoes of childhood experience. It may be the case, however, that the consolatory power of rhythm operates, in some circumstances, differently: on the metaprosodic or emblematic level, whereby consolatory work is carried out by the cultural implications attendant on recognition of a form, rather than by the perceptual effects of the form itself. Can these different forms of consolation be teased apart? And is one more worthy of being valued than another? The paper will address these questions through analysis of the place of rhythm, as well as of patterning more generally, in elegies by Paul Muldoon (“Incantata”, 1994) and Denise Riley (“A Part Song”, 2012). In dialogue with Simon Jarvis’s influential essay “Prosody as Cognition” (1998), it will also offer more general considerations on the place occupied by prosodic study within contemporary criticism.
Lacy Rumsey is Associate Professor in the English department of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, where he teaches poetry and literary theory. His research focuses on the prosody of English-language poetry, particularly British and American free verse, and he has published numerous articles and chapters on prosodic and other formal aspects of English-language poetry. These include a theoretical and critical account of the contribution of intonation to poetic form, studies of rhythm in the poetry of Whitman, Swinburne, Bishop, MacNeice, J.H. Prynne and Jeff Hilson, and an analysis of the history and nature of found poetry. His chapter on free-verse and open-form poetry features in A Companion to British and Irish Poetry, 1965-2015 (ed. Wolfgang Görtshacher and David Malcolm, Wiley-Blackwell, 2021). Most recently, his analysis of the diverse rhythmic practices of free-verse poets in the year 1922 was published in L’air du temps de 1922 : Royaume-Uni et États-Unis aux rythmes d’une année (ed. Elise Brault-Dreux, Sorbonne UP, 1922).
Scanlan, Margaret (Indiana University-South Bend)
A Private and Public Grief: Consolation in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet
Michaël Foessel traces an evolution in the history of texts about consolation in the West. By asking questions about how to console someone, about the criteria evoked in consoling, or about its social value, we understand consolation as a deeply critical category. As the personal is no stranger to politics, he notes that the political can cause private grief (198). Today many fear that our own democracies, betraying their humane principles, act fascistically. The England of Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet is such a place: refugees fleeing persecution are brutally and illegally confined; citizens increasingly accept arbitrary surveillance systems and violations of privacy. Brexit is a disaster.
The novel illustrates Foessel’s affirmation of the story as consolation (245). The Seasonal Quartet frequently demonstrates the bonds between people and times that grief can forge. The novel contains multiple plots entwining the Holocaust with the Scottish Clearances and the present-day treatment of refugees. We will explore Foessel’s argument that consolation, by relativizing the terrible isolation of those obsessed with a grief they cannot communicate, offers a “reconquest of the possible” (80).
Strikingly, even as Foessel convinces us that consolation offers a critical tool, he fails to read gender similarly. The Seasonal Quartet is a feminist series of novels; its female characters take political actions and grieve over the loss of democracy. The central political act it portrays is the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, and women play major roles in helping refugees. They do not stage a revolution that will end racism forever, but willingly offer shelter, transportation, and food. For both the native citizen and the refugee, they suggest the value of reviving a sense of the possible even when there is no hope of full restitution to the victim or of reviving the citizen’s naïve faith in democracy.
Margaret Scanlan isProfessor Emerita at Indiana University-South Bend. She has written four books: Traces of Another Time: Politics and History in Postwar British Fiction (Princeton, 1990); Plotting Terror: Novelists and Terrorists in Contemporary Fiction (Virginia, 2001); Culture and Customs of Ireland (Greenwood, 2006) and Understanding Irene Nemirovsky (South Carolina, 2018). Her most recent writing, for the journal Clio and in a collection forthcoming from Routledge, has addressed issues this conference considers in a general way: literature’s capacity to respond positively and seriously to real life issues. The first is a reading of Walter Kempowski’s Alles umsonst as a work of restoration. The second is a reading of Uzma Aslam Khan’s The Geography of God which argues for defining the genre of postcolonial fiction in terms of trauma studies.
Scott, Bryant (Texas A&M University at Qatar)
The Solace of the Gutter: Distance and Bearing Witness to Violence in Contemporary Graphic Literature
This paper reads Joe Sacco’s seminal work of comic journalism, Palestine, and Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, through contemporary critiques of humanitarian media, particularly those central to the emerging field of humanitarian studies. My paper argues that only by considering the influence humanitarian discourse has had on cultural, literary, and journalistic production can we fully acknowledge and recognize the challenges Sacco and Folman attempt to outline and overcome through graphic journalism and war reportage. Sacco, throughout his work, seeks to understand and represent distant and marginalized suffering without relying on the hierarchical frames of humanity (Fassin 2010) that produce distance, otherness, dehumanization, and the binaries of innocence/guilt, citizen/ other, and zóé/bios. Faced with disparities in media coverage, imbalances in soft power, and a general lack of the “permission to narrate” (Said 1984), Sacco uses graphic narrative in Palestine to negotiate, deconstruct, and refashion representations of violence, suffering, and atrocity. While much critical attention has been given to Sacco as a “new journalist,” a “Gonzo” journalist, and a postcolonial writer, Sacco also makes important, yet overlooked contributions, in understanding, questioning, and moving beyond the humanitarian frames of representation and knowing through which the experiences of distant and marginalized others are viewed. Similarly, Waltz with Bashir attempts to make legible through graphic narrative the difficult, ineffable, and inexpressible challenges of memory, trauma, and atrocity. Pairing both works with broader, interdisciplinary challenges to humanitarian media and representation, I demonstrate how these graphic narratives offer a critical lens for rendering visible the quotidian, slow, and meandering forms of suffering and trauma which often defy articulation and representation.
Dr. Bryant Scott is a professor of English at Texas A&M University at Qatar, where he teaches course in literature, film, and composition. He is also co-chair of the Qatar Faculty Forum, a research forum for the eight branch campuses at Education City. His writing can be found in the European Journal of American Studies, The Houston Review of Books, Postcolonial Text, and in the edited collection Uniting Regions and Nations through the Looking Glass of Literature (Cambridge Scholars, 2017).
Wojtas, Pawel (University of Warsaw)
Illness Narrative as Bibliotherapy in J.M. Coetzee’s The Death of Jesus
This paper reads Coetzee’s 2019 novel The Death of Jesus as an example of illness narrative and studies its bibliotherapeutic effects. I will seek to demonstrate the extent to which Coetzee’s illness narratives lend themselves to book therapy despite failing to meet the standards of traditional books for prescription. By constantly frustrating his novels’ capacity for redemption and closure, Coetzee “both trials and erases the emergence of solace” in his fictions (James 2019, 190). Such forms of resistance to solace – which David James calls “discrepant solace” (Ibid. 5) – are often manifested in Coetzee’s text through their refusal to offer a clear sense of an ending, the sparseness of style, and various meaning-deferring tactics. A fiction so constructed contains within itself a certain capacity to trigger the reader’s self-searching habits through withholding textual meanings. This problematic capacity of Coetzee’s latest fictions is coupled with the ambiguous ontological and fictional status of the protagonist, David, together with the boy’s understanding of his (dis)abilities as well as his sense of self in illness. By posing these challenges to the reader, the Jesus trilogy prompts meditation on the relationship between fiction and self-understanding as well as the healing effects that this self-understanding evokes in the process of reading.
Paweł Wojtas is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Artes Liberales, University of Warsaw. He completed his MLitt degree in English Studies at the University of Stirling (2008), and PhD in Arts and Humanities at the University of Warsaw (2012). He acted as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of York (2018) and The Kosciuszko Foundation Research Fellow at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin (2022). He has published on modern and contemporary English transnational literature. He is currently researching literary representations of disability in contemporary English and related literary fiction.