Shklovsky and the Footman

Newsflash: I'll be reading tonight at the Babble-On Reading series on Thursday June 25th, 8pm at Dog Eared Books at 900 Valencia @ 20th Street, along with Vauhini Vara and Rose Tully.

And now a Viktor Shklovsky quote I found, courtesy of Aqueduct Press, for that segment of my readership who can never enough Shklovsky -- you know who you are.

"Thackeray resented the idea of dénouement. He compared it with the residue of tea on the bottom of a cup; it's too sugary. It's obvious to the reader that it is a condensation of unresolved conflicts."

"To humor himself, Thackeray wanted his footman to write the ending for him, after he was done cleaning his boots and dress."

I approve of this simile, but it makes me want to defend dénouement . Because I think I want to taste those over-saccharine last dregs, with their nonetheless-bitter aftertaste. That final gulp, that ultimate page, bring a presentiment of death, for isn't it always the footman who writes the ending? Cf. J. Alfred Prufrock --

"I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker...”

Shklovsky continues, "So then it appears that dénouements are based on the premise that they don't really exist."

This makes me think of Slavoj Žižek on "The Truman Show" -- "what if it is precisely this "happy" dénouement of the film... with the hero breaking out and, as we are led to believe, soon to join his true love... that is ideology at its purest? What if ideology resides in the very belief that, outside the closure of the finite universe, there is some 'true reality' to be entered?"

Could this be the residue we are straining to get a taste of at the bottom of the teacup? And remember that not all of us put sugar in our tea.

3 thoughts on “Shklovsky and the Footman”

  1. as a hopeful shklovskyite, I feel that the matter of dénouements gets resolved on the level of genre. but of course even the most devoted realist fiction can't help being post-humanist these days. the ideology at the bottom of the cup is anxiety.

  2. Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before anything be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention,

  3. George Eliot wrote to John Blackwood in 1857, “Conclusions are the weak point of most authors, but some of the fault lies in the very nature of a conclusion, which is at best a negation.”

    Anton Chekhov — “My instinct tells me that at the end of a novel or a story I must artfully concentrate for the reader an impression of the entire work…” quoted in Letters on Literature 1924 ed. Louis S. Friedland.

    These next quotes are from the letter collection 1984. Samuel R. Delany wrote to Robert S. Bravard about Theodor Adorno — “What he valued most were the things that stuck out, that remained, and that defined the whole 'closing cadence' which we think of as the proper and resolved ending for a piece of music or writing.” Delany also wrote to Greg Tate that he was “no longer interested in the closing cadence that ends so much narrative fiction… the fall from dominant to tonic.”

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