ACLA 2018: Stepping Off the End
In the Afterword to “Canicula di Anna” in Plainwater, Anne Carson asks the reader, “what is so terrible about stepping off the end of a story?” (88). “Stepping off the end of a story” might mean a variety of things; in this context, Carson points to a textual moment, the end, and our unwillingness to let it arrive and therefore accept our outsidership. We seek the end, the closure to the story, at the same time that we put it off, lingering along the edges of the cliff, knowing that the end means we will be cast out, dislocated at the moment of completion. We might seek other ways to fill the silence that follows the story, finding a means to perpetuate the story beyond its seeming departure: “Because you would always like to know a little more. Not exactly more story. Not necessarily, on the other hand, an exegesis. Just something to go on with” (88). But, why? What if, instead, we step off? Carson seems to suggest that the intimacy we desire with a text might require an outsider’s gaze, even if our alienation becomes the only basis for intimacy. After all, the end is inevitable. Yet, in shifting our attention to what can take place at the margins, somewhere just off the edge of a text, we see that the inevitability of closure perhaps becomes its impossibility. The end points to something else—an invitation, a demand, to keep reading, to keep writing, aware of our dismissal and inspired by the promise of a perpetually open text.
For many writers, the end represents a moment of contestation—one where the closure of the text opens onto that which exceeds closure and refuses incorporation. And that’s one way of framing the interest many contemporary writers have in playing with endings and edges. For this panel, we are seeking papers that explore the question of “stepping off the end” of a text—what that might mean for both reader and writer, and how specific literary works reflect on endings. To what extent do ends provide closure? How do texts remain “open,” as defined by Lyn Hejinian, despite the arrival at a final word? Is Hejinian’s “rejecting closure” itself a way to elude an ending while acknowledging, “this eluding of the end is my ending”? How do writers flesh out a sort of hors-texte, composing in the marginal space of the parergon, as a mode of interrogating textual ends, edges, and hierarchies? Can Derridean thought thus become a jumping off point—an edge in itself—where one can construct something with the rubble of deconstruction? Papers addressing any literary genre are welcome.