Topics in Comparative Studies 3 (S2, 2018/2019)

Semester 2

Problems of ending and closure in modern narrative                                        Donata Meneghelli & Guido Mattia Gallerani (U.Bologna)

Intensive seminar:  22-28 May and 30 May-5 June 2019, room 1.26

Ending and closure have long been major concerns in narrative theory and comparative literature, variously linked to issues of genre(s), tradition(s), cultural context(s), literary status, ideology, and psycho-social attitudes on the part of both readers and writers, and they are even more relevant today, within a mediascape which is increasingly characterised by “endless narratives” (TV series going through several seasons, film and literature multiplicity, continuations, spin-offs and the like).

Against this background, the seminar will tackle notions of ending and closure from both a theoretical and a historical perspective, focusing on nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first-century narratives. In doing so, it will stress the differences between the two notions (ending and closure are not one and the same thing), challenge some ideas on “closed” and “open” texts which are taken for granted, and prompt reflection on narrative temporality. Particular attention will be paid to some closural strategies, such as the epilogue or the happy ending and their many aporias, with special reference to nineteenth-century fiction (e.g. Tolstoy’s War and Pace, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady), some literary practices that work “against” the end, such as the sequel, or some fictional/cultural tropes connected to “the sense of an ending” (namely, the apocalypse).

In this respect, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic (catastrophic) fiction refers to specific boundaries that, in Western literature, separate this genre from tragedy, dystopia and prophetic writing. The last part of the seminar will begin by examining the relationships between apocalypticism and several other anthropological and cultural issues (De Martino). We will then explore the social function of apocalyptic literature (taking heed of Communism and Posthuman debates) and its use as resistance literature, both in modern and contemporary texts. The preliminary corpus spans from Mary Shelley’s The Last Man up to Guido Morselli’s Dissipatio H.G., José Saramago’s Ensaio sobre a Cegueira and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.