Books, and even page based essays, have last pages. Surely, this is not only simple, but also obvious and trivial? It is, and it is not. It is surprising, at least to me, how many people think the last page is the last page because it is where the essay or story ends. As if this is what confers and establishes the authority of the last page as a particular thing. However, surely this is what we might (to appropriate and possibly bastardise a phrase from Meillassoux) want to recognise as narrative correlationism. This, and its presence is surprisingly widespread and pernicious, is where the presence or evidence of a story (fiction or nonfiction hardly matters) is treated as an originary cause or thing that, in some sort of odd way, lies outside of material practice. It is well understood and unproblematic to understand that stories take a material form (though the traditional distinction between story and plot, between what the story is thought to be about, and how it is told, also reintroduces that Cartesian split between the specificity of a particular body — that particular telling — and this other, more abstracted and generalisable description that lies outside of any particular instantiation) but this material form is secondary to the story as non material event or experience.
Hence books have last pages because this is where they end. But the reality is, very simply, the reverse. Because a book is a finite thing that consists of pages it must, by material definition, have a last page. It has no choice not to. Hence it is simple to have books that don’t have endings (Kafka), books that play with duplicitous or multiple endings (The French Lieutenant’s Woman), books that have a variety of possible reading paths (choose your own adventure and that south african novel…), and so on, precisely because there will be a last page. It is this presence, this necessary simple fact, that allows all these other possibilities to be. The material necessity of the last page is what grounds the presence and demand of closure that narrative seems to be unnecessarily reliant on, not the other way round.
This is what narrative correlationism does, and how it performs itself. In the case of the book and the page it ‘flips’ a material given, again, simply and dumbly, there must be a last page, into mere contingent accident so that nearly every person thinks the last page arrives because that is where the story (or in nonfiction, perhaps argument) ends, yet we must manufacture endings, neat and tidy, because our media ends. In this way story or narrative or whatever we might want to call this sort of discursive telling, has been domesticated externally, by the material specificity of our media substrates, the stuff that, except for modernist moments of formal reflexivity, most stories, most of the time pay no attention to. That is to say that most books pay no attention to their pages (let alone their typography or design), films generally work diligently to conceal their celluloid media, and video, outside of video art, is not particularly interested in its electronic signaletic condition. Which is also to say that each media form, particularly when viewed from within the fabled milieu of fiction, subjugates its materiality to mere handmaiden to story, yet, as I am suggesting, this is, at best, smoke and mirrors for our stories must end because their physical media has to end.
Two things arise from this of note. The first is that, courtesy of modernism, it is simple to build a catalogue of exceptions and this catalogue then becomes one of the best places to look for ideas, concepts, propositions and provocations for how narrative, or story (or even if narrative and story are even the terms we still need) can do when our material media no longer must have a last page, frame, or track. The second is that it simply begs the simple (or naive even stupid depending on where you have come from) question of what sorts of stories happen when our media does not need to end, and even more elegantly, how do we make, or let be made, such stories? [Affective assemblage engines is one answer, for example Cowbird.] My preliminary catalogue would include Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and some children’s books.