The Politics and Poetics of Consolation: A Dialogue on Discrepant Solace

David JamesMCRm

Can literature help us to make sense of loss? In the face of illness, dread, or grief, why write? And amid the tumult of sorrow, can the very process of writing itself offer a kind of solace? If so, what form does that consolation take? In his 2019 book, David James tackles these tough and enduring questions, in order to engage with how literature evokes formidable experiences of loss, while also addressing how twenty-first-century writers examine consolation itself as a
source of ethical self-scrutiny and creative potential. The challenges writers face in attempting to convey, let alone compensate for, the social ramifications and psychological effects of devastation are not new; but as Discrepant Solace reveals, we have witnessed in recent years a flourishing range of novels and memoirs that confront consolation’s complexity and unpredictability in daring, innovative ways.

This panel brings together scholars from different career stages (Prof. Ankhi Mukherjee (Oxford), Dr. Adam Kelly (York), and Dr. Charlotte Terrell (Oxford)) who represent distinct areas of expertise, who work across genres and methodologies, and who all share an interest in the affective work of modern and contemporary literature. They will discuss the implications of James’s book, both by relating its arguments to their own research and by assessing its contentions within the context of a larger dialogue about how we read literature’s emotional, ethical, political affordances.

Each speaker will offer a relatively concise position paper (10-15 minutes). The panel will then be followed by a short response from James himself. The session will thereby prioritise discussion between the panel and its audience, facilitating broader conversations beyond the book itself about the critical consequentiality of studying the way literature produces emotional knowledge.

Dr. Adam Kelly (Senior Lecturer in English, University of York)
Prof. Ankhi Mukherjee (Professor of English and World Literatures; Tutorial Fellow, Wadham
College, University of Oxford)
Dr. Charlotte Terrell (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Worcester College, University of Oxford)
Respondent
Prof. David James (Professorial Research Fellow, University of Birmingham)

Fri 2:00 pm - 3:15 pm