The End of the World:
Closure in the Fantasies of Borges, Calvino, and
In The Sense of an Ending, Frank Kermode formulates a theory of closure based on Apocalyptic thinking; how narratives end, for Kermode, can be understood by examining how we mythologize the end of the world; but what about works that are involved in constructing worlds? Such works, it would seem, have a double duty to perform—not only do they need to end a world, but they first need to create one. Fictions by fantasists such as Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, and Steven Millhauser are frequently concerned with building alternate worlds for the reader—worlds that, like our own, are infinite. Since the infinite is, by definition, without end, closure for these fictions represents a special problem. This paper will explore the narrative strategies employed by these writers to provide an end for the endless.
The reader should be carried forward, not merely or chiefly by the me-
chanical impulse of curiosity, not by a restless desire to arrive at the final
solution, but by the pleasurable activity of the journey itself.
Life is messy; art is neat. Although much recent experimentation challenges this assumption, it cannot be denied that one of the main qualities we look for in art is what we don't find in life: order, form, integrity. A sense of closure is perhaps the single most important ingredient for generating a sense of neat-