The Endings

August 25, 2008 § 1 Comment

Finished: The Raw Shark Texts.

I’m going to try not to completely give everything away here, but if you haven’t read the book yet (or even just might, somewhere down the road), you should probably stop reading now.  Read the book, come back, we’ll discuss.

It’s a fallacy that every book has an ending.  Every book has an end: the words stop somewhere.  But an ending, a conclusion, a summation, a kind of statement upon or structural capstone for the rest of the book: many books do not have that.  (The Broom of the System springs to mind.)

This book has an ending.  With a vengeance.  As a matter of fact, there’s an ending, and then a kind of epilogue, explanatory, documentary ending that changes everything in the book.

There’s a lot of meaning packed into the chapter titles here: for instance, the titles to chapters 30 and 32 tie together Jaws and Moby-Dick in a fairly ingenious way.  Your understanding of the first ending hinges on what you make of Hall referencing a Cure song in that chapter’s title.  And the final “chapter’s” title is “Goodbye Mr Tegmark.”  This is, from all sources I’ve seen, a reference to Max Tegmark, a cosmologist who’s done a lot of work on parallel universes, theories of everything, the potential mathematical underpinnings of an afterlife and immortality, and other such mind-fuckery.  (Why “Goodbye”?  Why drop the previously unreferenced name?  Why this chapter at all?)

On the one hand, this book was intended as an exercise in ambiguity, apparently, and is awash with hints of unreliable narration, unknown or hidden character identities, unstable textuality (like the Ludovician imagery and First Eric Sanderson letters and Light Bulb Fragments), and multivalent paratexts (like the chapter titles, “story” titles, and dust jacket).  (There’s some high-level jargon for ya!)  And I love this stuff, and I love canoodling around with Tegmarkian thoughts even though I can hardly claim to understand them at anything more than a blown-stoner’s-mind level.  Hell, I wrote a whole book’s worth of stories with a similar setup.

But on the other hand, something about these endings seems off to me.  I guess I have no other hand, really, without taking more time and space than I can right now (and revealing more than I care to) to justify this feeling.  Let’s just say it feels a little too wrapped-up, to me, even with all the possible interpretations you could bring to it.  I guess I wanted more of an anti-ending, here; an end, no ending.  Maybe I just need to read a little more about Tegmark to find if there’s some theory I’m overlooking that could ease these qualms.

PS-There is, apparently, a whole bunch of stuff about this book that one can look into, including “negatives” or “un-chapters” for each chapter in the book that are embedded in the various editions, online, etc., etc.  (See the forums at rawsharktexts.com if you’re interested.)  Dangerously tempting for the librarian in me.

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§ One Response to The Endings

  • willhansen2 says:

    I’m not sure what to make of the endings. I have a high tolerance for books that make only a dream kind of sense, which this would have fit with, if heaven didn’t turn up in the end.

    When do we enter a world that exists only in Eric’s mind? My gut says when he makes water, during his dream “the physical me vanished.” Before this, I do think the events are real (or, dream-real). His body is found in the area where he and Scout go underground. But what does that mean about Scout? He dreams of Clio saying she’s come back from the Paradise-Heaven-Greek Isle for him. And somehow she’s able to be a real person in the real world? I suppose the best option here is to think that Scout’s backstory is a fabrication, not that Clio has possessed an existing person, eh? Fidorous says “she’s a girl who’s come a long way from where she started and from who she was.” But is dead Clio coming from a conceptual world separate from Eric’s mind? Or does she live only there? The afterlife seems to exist within his consciousness, yes? But it’s more like going down a Murakami well and deciding not to resurface??

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