Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Conclusively Inconclusive

Blythe, I didn't notice that you had posted about this topic.  I think that my post can speak to yours--

Endings are never easy for any writer, but throughout our semester’s journey of 20th century experimental British fiction, I think that we have come to realize that many of the authors are preoccupied with concluding their narratives.  While Women in Love ends in argument, Henry Green’s Loving seemingly ends in Raunce and Edith’s marriage (a marriage that was not enough for Birkin, who we know was preoccupied with maintaining individuality within a relationship and that a “pair” was not complete without a third—“few” to use the language of Levenson), though we know that through discussing the novel itself, we have come to distrust such an “easy” ending.  After Anna’s crack-up in the Golden Notebook, the novel ends “The two women kissed and separated,” a similarly abrupt ending just like Loving.  Given Anna’s “cracking up” throughout the novel, this ending seems extremely dissatisfying in its resolution. 
We’ve talked a lot about experimental fiction “breaking expectations” and doing so through the “uncanny,” and this particular ending seems to speak to this concept.  Namely, that we’ve spent the novel experiencing Anna’s “cracking up,” and to end so abruptly and conventionally becomes uncanny—just like Green’s Loving—breaking our expectations of what the novel has already established. 
Samuel Beckett’s Molloy perhaps offers the most frustrating ending as it both exposes its own fictionality: “he wrote, ‘It was midnight.  It was raining.  It was not midnight.  It was not raining.”  Such an ending asks the reader to loop back to the beginning of the novel to ponder the relationship between the two sections of the novel.  This anxiety over concluding a narrative reveals the characters’ similar anxiety over mortality.  The Waves ostensibly illustrates anxiety over death both throughout the novel (in the ghostlike figure of Percival) and at the end of the novel, through Bernard’s apostrophe—“Oh Death!”  However, it is the italicized line “The waves broke on the shore” (220) that trumps Bernard’s declaration against death, rather bringing the reader outside the subjective perspective of the characters in this final moment, to return to a continuing cycle. 
Speaking of cycles/death, we can also look toward Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark, which ends in Anna’s repetition of thinking about “starting all over again” even though one likely presumes that she will die from the botched abortion.  Crash also ends in the “unceasing flow of traffic”—a short separate paragraph that stands alone after James and Catherine’s moments wandering among the crashed cars together.  Perhaps Never Let Me Go ends most conventionally, in that Kathy seems resigned to her fate, and the reader knows that she too will “complete” just like Tommy and Ruth.  In its conclusiveness, however, this ending becomes uncanny in its own right, making the reader continue to question/probe further into this unsettling novel, which perhaps hits too close to home.    
From arguments, to cycles, to “conventional” resolutions that are uncanny because the novel itself is so “unconventional,” to a shifting perspective (leaving the characters for the final moment in The Waves), the literature that we have surveyed this semester certainly seems preoccupied with destabilizing the reader at the end of each novel.  Thinking back to Woolf’s "The Mark on the Wall," with which we began the semester and its ending—“Ah the mark on the wall!  It was a snail”—reminds us that endings/conclusions certainly aren’t—and perhaps are best if they aren’t— resolutions.   

1 comment:

  1. Anna, and Blythe as well, I enjoyed your focus on the endings of the novels. How appropriate to reflect on the ends of novels at the end of the class. Anna, this phrase really caught my attention, "the literature that we have surveyed this semester certainly seems preoccupied with destabilizing the reader at the end of each novel." This destabilization from the novels has affected me this semester - especially as I talk about my classes, someone always says "experimental, what do you mean by that?" I found that I have resorted to a harried response of, "Well, you know, experimental in narrative style, plot, topics...things like that. I'm not really sure, that question is the one we are thinking about this whole semester, so get back to me at the end."
    Well, it is the end now so I should have an answer, and I believe that somewhere in my less-harried response I will add the phrase "destabilize the reader." While the reader should question each piece of literature that he/she reads, this does not always happen. I believe that these experimental works force the reader to truly think about the novel, if not go back and read it through once more.


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