Reconsidering Consolation in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Elegiac Writing - NeMLA 7-11 April 2010, Montreal, QC [UPDATE]

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Daniel Moore, Panel Chair, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
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One line from Wilfred Owen's unfinished preface to his posthumous Poems (1920) can be read as a synecdoche for much elegiac writing of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Anticipating the disconsolate tenor later elegies sound and the resistances they levy to socially and politically sustained practices of mourning, Owen warns readers that the elegies in his book "are to this generation in no sense consolatory."

Scholars working in the field of American and British elegiac traditions tend to agree with Owen. They also see in his claim a way of grappling with the intense psychical and political upheavals about which many modern and contemporary elegies speak. Like the soldier-poet, Jahan Ramzani (1994), Melissa Zeiger (1997), and Sandra M. Gilbert (2006) have each used consolation as a foil to the processes and strategies of grieving they find in writings inspired by loss from the current and the previous century (Ramazani 365; Zeiger 14; Gilbert 372). Ramazani's influential terms "anti-elegies" and "resistant mourning" and Zeiger's 1997 title Beyond Consolation imply the modern elegy continues to be read, defined, and conceived through a negative dialectic with consolation.

"Reconsidering Consolation" requests abstracts planning to carry on and to enrich this critical tradition. The panel's premise is that consolation has long been an essential term in the modern elegiac tradition—given express attention in Owen's 1920 preface—but also that there is still much ground to be covered in order to understand (1) what we mean by consolation and (2) how it might play a more active role in modern and contemporary elegies than extant scholarship suggests. The arguments made by the scholars above seem to risk taking consolation altogether out of critical discussions by insisting that modern and contemporary elegies are known best by their resistance to consolatory methods of coping with grief; however, these critics also imply modern elegists cannot do away completely with acts and languages of consolation since, at the very least, they usually write with them in mind, if against them.

But might we couple consolation and elegiac writing over the past century in British and American traditions in a less oppositional relation? How do postures, gestures, and dictions of consolation persist in elegiac traditions after WWI, even within politically daring and psychically distressing elegiac writings? What kinds of ambivalent relationships with consolation do we find in elegies from the modernist period and later?

Please send 300-word abstracts before 30 September 2009 to Daniel Moore at