(Beijing Normal University)
“Consorting and the Role of Affect in Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire”
Lepora and Goodin define consorting as a non-contributory act, and therefore as falling below their threshold for complicity. The term refers to ‘accord, agreement, concurrence’, but can also be used in a weaker sense to refer to general social associations. Yet despite the weakness of this definition, this essay begins with the claim that the notion of consorting, and the idea that one may be enfolded into a particular group, carries with it a particular affective power. Specifically, it exaggerates a sense of complicity: the feeling that one is consorting with wrongdoers outweighs any actual contribution to wrongdoing constituted by such association. The affective power of the idea of consorting – and particularly the fear of appearing to consort with opposing groups – thus exacerbates existing social divisions by forcing individuals to make definitive choices about any conflicted loyalties, and by amplifying the echo chamber effects created by modern media.
Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire (2017) examines such divided loyalties by re-telling Antigone as a story of British Muslims in the early twenty-first century, adding to Sophocles’ family versus state dilemma the issue of religious allegiance. The novel’s Creon is Karamat Lone, a Home Secretary of Pakistani descent who aligns himself with ‘Britishness’, thus alienating sections of the Muslim population, who in turn experience the suspicion that they may be consorting with the wrong type of Muslims. His hardline stance towards radicalization highlights the problem of equating consorting with complicity, as the characters are forced to make definitive choices between different groups. The novel also shows, through references to brutality in Bagram and Guantánamo, that definitions of wrongdoing are necessarily subjective and depend to a large extent on the particular social group with which any individual aligns themself.
For these reasons, it is not sufficient to evaluate the importance of consorting in terms of direct causality, but instead to understand its affective power in the ways that complicity is defined by any given group. On the basis of this discussion, the essay concludes by arguing that an emphasis on causality can be enriched through consideration of the role of affect in terms of understanding the causes of complicity in any sort of social context.