“Consolation : comfort received by a person after a loss or disappointment.”
In Hans Blumenberg’s philosophical anthropological assessment, consolation is a determining historical and anthropological practice. It makes the contingency of human existence bearable, demanded with respect to the intensifying contingency of life under conditions of modernity. Consolation is soothing, in Blumenberg’s assessment, and yet, on the other hand, constitutes an avoidance of thought for a clear-sighted thinker (with a modern ethos of self-affirmation) prepared to and capable of grasping and reflecting on historical and experiential loss and change.
Michael Foessel’s book Le Temps de la Consolation (2015) questions such a claim, asking precisely how loss, consolation and thinking have been and could be configured. I would like to pick out just one element of the book’s introduction, in which he presents and opposes a pair of “figures”, conceptual pesonae I would even suggest: the inconsolable and the reconciled.
These are figures who have both suffered a loss. The reconciled, in our vocabulary, is a comic figure, insofar as she produced for herself a (temporary) resolution through the work of being quickly sated, of replacing what was lost with something else such that she is no longer has to confront the state of loss. By contrast, the demand of the inconsolable is the restitution of the lost object of love, and the refusal to obey exterior demands to get on with the work of affective reinvestment. What seems interesting is that the inconsolable is not the “melancholic”, a tragic figure. Or rather, tragedy would be an excessive mode of the figure of the inconsolable. The inconsolable does not reject consolation, but rather keeps in view that consolation does not replace what is lost.
The figure of the inconsolable seems to be a resource for thinking one modality of a “contemporary ethos”. The inconsolable avoids two extremes: (1) the first could be qualified as one form of modern ethos, the demand to quickly “reinvest” the present, to be sated by it and to disavow loss; (2) the second could be qualified as counter-modern, melancholic deploring of what has been lost. The figure of the inconsolable, and in this it seems to offer a resource for thinking about a contemporary ethos, holds in view, and in disposition, the experience of loss, and yet works (or endeavors to persevere) in working to take hold of that loss and to give it form. This figure is not tragic, or comic, and certainly not ironic, although aware of elements of each. It is a figure seeking repair, whilst knowing that restoration of the prior state is impossible, and who is simultaneously recalcitrant towards demands to “get on” with adaptation.
There is much to be said about how these figures can be used to think the case of assisted suicide and of the relation of palliative care to breakdowns modern ethe in medical institutions.