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Discrepant SolaceContemporary Literature and the Work of Consolation$
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David James

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198789758

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198789758.001.0001

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The Religion of Style

The Religion of Style

(p.114) 4 The Religion of Style
Discrepant Solace

David James

Oxford University Press

Chapter 4 brings together two strikingly different novels that exhibit comparable modes of proleptic mourning: Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (2004) and J. M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron (1990). Their plots sketch preparations for mortality, testing consolation’s sufficiency without stripping its contribution to the role fiction can ‘play’ in what Paul Ricoeur calls ‘the apprenticeship of dying’. Testaments to what writing itself might conserve in advance of what cannot be altered, these epistolary fictions of expectation place the perceived consolations of religion in critical conversation with the ethically contestable consolations of style. They confirm Ricoeur’s warning that when ‘consolation’ emerges in fiction, ‘one must not cry self-delusion too hastily’, even if the unpicking of self-delusion is part of a novel’s economy of affect—as Disgrace (1999), the chapter’s third selection, powerfully exemplifies, a work that interrogates its own redemptive language of the soul at a juncture for South African culture characterized by pervasive disappointment and the irreparable pain of apartheid’s legacy.

Keywords:   style, faith, loss, anticipation, J. M. Coetzee, Marilynne Robinson

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