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Last Things: Essays on Ends and Endings

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Edited By Gavin Hopps, Stella Neumann, Sven Strasen and Peter Wenzel

This multidisciplinary collection brings together scholars from the fields of literature, theology and linguistics who question and extend our taken-for-granted conceptions of The End. It focuses on the ways in which endings are formally signaled in literature, and sets these alongside parallel studies in journalism and film. However, it is also concerned with larger philosophical and historical notions of closure, impermanence, rupture and apocalypse as well as the possibilities of «posthumous» being. It gives examples from fairytales, Byron, Longfellow, Dillard, Barnes and South African writers.
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Endings in Literature: A Survey: Peter Wenzel (Aachen)

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Peter Wenzel (Aachen)

After a glance at earlier models of a typology of closure, this article distinguishes various cognitive principles on which the construction of endings in literary texts can be grounded, putting special emphasis on Gestalt principles and reader-activating strategies. In its conclusion it shows that these closural devices have also been exploited by postmodernist writers.

The claim that like the beginning, the ending of a text is a particularly interesting object for research can be grounded on principles that were already well-known in traditional literary theory, and it can be endorsed further by findings of more recent, reader-oriented and cognitive approaches.1 Thus there is, in the first place, a long tradition in constructivist and formalist theories of literature and aesthetics which proceeds on the assumption that a writer composes his work with a particular view of the ending in mind or that he perhaps even constructs it all backwards from there. When Edgar Allan Poe laid the foundation for his theory of the short story in his “Philosophy of Composition” (1846) and in his review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales (1842), he propagated the idea that the end was the place “where all works of art should begin” (1967, 487). He even went so far as to claim that “in the whole composition there should be no word written of which the tendency, direct or indirect” was not to the preconceived “single effect” of the ending (1967, 446). Likewise, the Russian formalist Boris Eichenbaum believed...

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