How might style console what it conveys? Can literary works formally counterpoint the very damage they describe? And if so, how do writers reflect on the ethical implications of providing such solace? This article takes up these questions by considering the consolatory poetics of narratives shaped by devastation, trauma, and irreparable loss. Against such unlikely generic backdrops for solace, Cormac McCarthy, W. G. Sebald, and Kazuo Ishiguro generate descriptions that refract those pernicious affects we expect style to amplify or reproduce. Refusing entirely to reinforce the turbulence it portrays, description jostles against the unremitting discomfiture these writers otherwise seem bent on imparting. To appreciate this friction between expression and affect, we need to entertain the possibility that fiction maybe at its most consoling precisely when it doesn’t depend upon the reader’s consolation. The Road (2006), Austerlitz (2001), and Never Let Me Go (2005) reveal how the solace of depiction isn’t synonymous with the comforts of reading. We’re used to seeing consolation, of course, as the gift from literature that any politically vigilant and dutifully suspicious reader should refuse. But this dismissal of solace has become a critical habit that’s hard to shake off rather than the epitome of a naiveté that’s easy to see through. Mobilizing the function of critical solace as both an interpretive method and a literary object of inquiry, the essay pursues a species of consolation forever aware of its own intimacy with loss, illuminating the aesthetic tactics with which contemporary writers register yet also redress the catastrophes they evoke.


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pp. 481-504
Launched on MUSE
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