The End – Endings are hard, how Spengler hands me the a perfect ending after an eight year wait – now I can finally begin


All good things must come to an…                                                                        [©Atani Studios-2012]

[Cross-posted at ReadabilityTest]

The other day a randomized, automatically generated WordPress script reminded me that Joseph Heller once said, “Every writer I know has trouble writing,” – how reassuring –  and of course, ‘and have more trouble with endings than with any other part of writing,’ is how Joe should have completed the sentence.  Is this just another manifestation of the old saw, “Begin with the ending in mind” – that’s what?  Habit No. 2 of Highly Effective People?  Or, is it really something else?

For writers it seems being highly effective comes particularly hard.  This seems to be a common condition among writers, searching for [and rarely finding] the right ending for the story.  Never eventually finding the right ending is the death of many – stories and writers.  Myself, I’ve been having that particular problem with this one story for the last eight years.  It seems I am not alone.

Spengler, who’s essays you will find over at AsiaTimesOnline -has some thoughts I wanted to share with you on the subject of endings from his essay, DSK and the death of the novel:

Fiction has been in trouble since the Spanish critic Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote The Decline of the Novel in 1925.†

A fine observation in and of itself, but he continues:

One way to address the problem is found in Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, one of the masterpieces of the past century. Its construction eliminates the possibility of an ending, for it deals with the Austrian elite on the eve of World War I; the reader knows what the protagonists do not, namely that their world will come to a crashing end within a few months. Musil’s people approach the apocalypse asymptotically without ever reaching it. That is a modern solution, but an unsatisfactory one. Musil published one volume of his great novel, and dissipated the rest of his life in drafts of alternative endings for a never-published second.†

According to Spengler there are exceptions to this rule, two, Jan Potocki’s The Manuscript Found in Saragossa [19th century] and J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, [20th century, and a personal favorite of mine] though both of them did not end well for the author…

After completing the novel, Potocki melted down his favorite sugar-bowl into a silver bullet and shot himself.  It makes wonderful beach reading.†

The problem it seems is more structural than simply finding a fitting way to draw up the bow of ‘… and ever after’.

It is hard to write a novel about life without an unsatisfactory conclusion. That is why so many writers fall back on the genre novel, for example the mystery, where the subject is not a life, but merely a case. Or they drift into the absurd, and inflate a short story into novelistic length, like Gabriel Garcํa Marquez. Stories do not have to encompass a life, but only a moment of it, which may explain why the genre does better than the novel.†

This makes me feel better about not having the ambition to be a novelist, I will go to the grave cheerfully a mere story teller.

The problem with “happily ever after” is that life always ends badly, that is, in death. Our troubles start when the adventure is over and we have to start living.†

Uncle Joe [Campbell not Stalin] mentions something about this in his theory about the Hero With a Thousand Faces , the hero, Gilgamesh or whoever, returns home from his adventure only to find that the solution to his dilemma was hidden under the hearthstone all along.  Ok then what? just live?  that’s it??

Spengler continues his critique of fiction:

One way to address the problem is found in Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, one of the masterpieces of the past century. Its construction eliminates the possibility of an ending, for it deals with the Austrian elite on the eve of World War I; the reader knows what the protagonists do not, namely that their world will come to a crashing end within a few months. Musil’s people approach the apocalypse asymptotically without ever reaching it. That is a modern solution, but an unsatisfactory one. Musil published one volume of his great novel, and dissipated the rest of his life in drafts of alternative endings for a never-published second.†

Tragedy as an art form, or the tragic ending, seems to offer the possibility of breaking the polarity of ending vs unendable.

End it in death even though you really want to end things nicely for your characters and give them some kind of a life – they are an aspect of your own ego after all.  Sometimes, the only descent thing to do is kill them all off.  There is, after all, more than one way to redeem a character.  Death, and the tragedy it implies, offers a kind of honesty and finality that staves off the lame.  This is one reason why we admire Darren Aronofsky and Hubert Selby Jr. as a story tellers around here, they can both be exactly as unsparing of their characters as is necessary to complete the story, but no more so.  This is a rare quality as far as our world goes.

This leaves me about where I have been for the last eight years, with a very significant germ of a story, plot, setting, characters all of that, but no conclusion until…  until two days ago I remembered something else that Spengler had written in another essay some time back that just happens to hand me the perfect ending – almost word for word:

It’s not the end of the world – it’s the end of you.‡

So perfect, so tragic, how apropos.

So, to make a long short story short, the story originated in 2004 and revolves around a proposition about the emergence of humanness from a bunch of pack-signalling proto-homonids that Uncle Terrence put forth in his 1992 book The Archaic Revival.  I decided to turn that proposition into a bit of speculative anthropology in the form of a story – probably the best place for anthropological speculation – but really didn’t know where that particular story was headed, or probably more honestly, was afraid to give it the ending that it most likely deserved, “that is, in death.” the death of a people and of a culture in this case.

The love of the nations for their own ethnicity is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death.”  [Franz Rosenzweig]

This is the bitter ending towards which that particular bit of historicizing now steers itself.

In the morning the sun rose again as it had for four thousand generations of man, a great molten ball of gold rising up out of a rosy glow.  The dew lay heavy in the grass, and the wind spoke as he shook it free.  Here and there around me I could hear the voices of birds and see the scurrying of small beasts.  The world seemed as dawn had always brought it: untroubled, beautiful.

Before I continued up Ararat, I took one final look back down at the plain.  I could see nothing at all of the fight that had taken place yesterday, or the remains of my people, the last of my kin and kind, lying there unburied in the grass. There was nothing at all to show that they had ever existed save troubled memory.  Soon that to would go quiet.

Turning away, I began my labored ascent.  I could see a storm gathering around Ararat wrapping the god’s head in snow laden clouds, I would not remain long unburied.  I would be covered over forever by nightfall.

I could see that it was not the end of the world, it was just the end of mine.

The End

Now I can finally begin.

~ von Ælfman

 
†Spengler [David P. Goldman] Asia Times On-Line, 6 July, 2011
‡Spengler [David P. Goldman] Asia Times On-Line 3 Feb, 2004
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