The End of the Story
A response to the novel The end of the Story, by Lydia Davis
The End of the Story begins with a memory that feels like an ending.
Endings are unusually difficult to locate. The storyteller is a container of memories who knows well that memories are not easily containable. Telling a story is not simply an act of packaging, generalization, or memorization. Memories are not memorized, but they can be enforced. This is the difference between a memory and a memorization: an unrelenting enforcement. There are certain minds, stories, and civilizations who contain what seem to be only memorizations, rather than memories. These are the minds of individuals whose activities, gestures, and vocabularies seem to be unendurably repetitive, bitter, and cheap... and these are the civilizations without memory and without geography, whose symbols of power penetrate the landscape like a sun that never sets.
The storyteller contains the memories, but not the story. The story is contained elsewhere, or rather, it is not contained. The storyteller turns her memories over, into a new container, called a story, that these memories might then find new places to be contained. New minds, whose memories are not memorizations. Minds who are willing to contain memories of their own, as well as memories of others.
“I imagined that one day I would see a man wearing exactly what he wore, a red plaid lumber jacket, or a light blue flannel shirt, and white painters pants or blue jeans torn at the cuffs, and this man would also have straight reddish gold hair combed to one side of his broad forehead, blue eyes, prominent cheekbones, tight lips, a broad strong body, a manner that was both shy and arrogant, and the resemblance would be complete down to the last detail, the pink in the whites of his eyes, or the freckles on his lips, or the chip in his front tooth, as though all his elements had come together and the only thing needed to change this man into him, was the right word.” (13)
All that is needed to begin a story (or recall a memory) is the right word. If a storyteller is a container of memories, yet memories are not easily containable, and if endings of stories are unusually difficult to locate, then it would follow that stories are quite nearly impossible to write, to tell. But this is not the case. The world is hungry for stories and full of right words. The difficulty, the near impossibility, exists elsewhere.
“When he actually left me, months after that, the world was not empty but worse than empty, as though the quality of emptiness has become so concentrated it turned into a kind of poison, as though each thing appeared alive and healthy but had been injected with a poisonous preserving agent.” (53)
Memorization is a poisonous preserving agent. It is a container that is full, that remembers nothing new, and forgets nothing old.
“This time he had not left me, he had only come late. He was there in the crowd by the door when I stood up to go. The life came back into everything in the room.” (53)
These phrases foreshadow the struggle between memory and memorization that is soon to take place in “the end of the story.” As this storyteller grieves for a lost lover, she risks an even greater loss, an absolute ending, a finality, which is to say a memorization. The inability to obtain new memories at the hands of an inability to forget old ones.
The story begins to stagnate, into despair, and it gets extraordinarily difficult to read. A story that no one wants to hear, because it risks becoming not a story of exchangeable memories, but a story of memorized pain, of relentless enforcement.
“Although I liked the idea of a rigid order, and seemed to believe that a thing would have more value if it was part of an order, I quickly became tired of the order.” (217)
“I saw how recovery worked. I saw how, as time passed other things came in between, as though a wall were being built. Events occurred and then receded in time. New habits formed. Situations in life changed.” (219)
This is the point when ones can begin to “remember it a little bit differently” and the chance for the life to come back into everything in the room, in the world, can exist again.
At every level of life one trades mobility for security or in reverse immobility for adventure.*
The End of the Story ends with an act of ceremony that feels like a beginning.
* quote by Lewis Mumford