Thursday 6th April, 4.15pm-5.15pm
“‘Whose Consolation? Medical Writing and the Caregiver’s Gain”
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 articulationof 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.