published in Stuff No.4, Melbourne, 1983

The end to anything is a tautological event constituting a temporal gap by virtue of its lack of finite measurement, it is a period that either beckons, forecasts or introduces the more material (i.e. measurable, notable) "end". It is often a period that subliminally gives the feeling of an imminent ending: the music swells, the plot thins, the moral unfolds, the hit single is played, the conversation dies, etc. These periods tend to almost operate like a matter transferal process between fiction and reality by "transporting" one back into the real world, gently slackening one's suspension of disbelief. The ending is when we are told that the end is coming. The sudden ending be it the song that abruptly shifts its melodic cadence into a full stop, or a film that violently cuts its plot dead does not tell us that the end is coming. It is a jolt not only because of its shock value to the reader of its narrative, but also because reality swallows up the space it (the textual object) was previously inhabiting. Confusion arises from the probability and conditionality of the event "should this be how it ends?" The fake ending, on the other hand, confirms its ending only to deny it. One is told that the ending is coming allright, but rather than the text dislocating us in its unpredictability, it merely and deliberately lies to us, the subversion of its logic being the means to its end.

The end proves to be a whole world in itself for Modernism in general, in that it like the start provided a contextual and formal delineation of what constructed the textuality of a given object. An archetypal structuring of this sort is the type of ending often used in Warner Brothers cartoons. Bugs Bunny, in particular, provided a cascade of endings, each swallowing one another up.

First, the cartoon an episodic "block" ends with all the trappings of resolutions, gags and punchlines. Then, the cartoon as the mode of its construction ends, through a literal closing of the visual fiction, where a graphic lens apparatus shuts down in a tunneling hole decreasing in size till blackness fills the screen, signifying (at least) a construction with a construction. Then the Warner Brothers departmental logo of "Looney Tunes" fills the screen complete with its counterpart signature tune. Together they function as a reinstatement of who or what presented you with this cartoon, in that logos generally operate as a space where a particular identity is inserted. To archeologically compound this further, television stations then usually flash up their own graphic card that incorporates their logo as encompassing a visual fragment of Bugs Bunny with his cartoon show title captioned underneath.

Bugs Bunny (and company) are an example of a modernist stretching of the materiality of structural form. But perhaps what is against the historical grain of modernism here is that Bugs takes pleasure in playing his trumpet loud without any real desire to blow down the walls of Jerico. There is a realization that in order to play with the ending, you need an ending to play with. A similar realization exists in Marguerite Duras' film "Nathalie Granger" in that an ending is quite simply absent. The film just ends, leaving one powerless to substantially describe the mechanics of its ending. Whereas Bugs Bunny entertains its ending, Natalie Granger ignores it.

What could be posited against Nathalie Granger would be a film like Monte Hellman's "Two Lane Blacktop", where the film fictionally though not materially catches fire and burns up, visually conveying the effect (the circumstantial instance) that the projector has actually burnt a hole in the film stock's image. Within the confines of textuality, the film manipulates itself as substance, generating its end through "ending" its physicality. In essence, it is a fictional illusion.

Such is the nature of modernist gestures: they often amount to being serialized inversions and retrogrades of existing conventional modes. But, their effectiveness lies in the shifting of such conventions into a wider field of arbitrariness. Bowie laces up the tape on "Its No Game" and Hayzee Fantayzee press the stop button on " Shiny Shiny ". In such examples, it is not simply that we are being told "nothing" (meaning we all know that the music is recorded on tape) but that we are simply experiencing the effect of someone talking without receiving any directed communication from their speech. It is as though the act of telling overrides the conventional meanings of the words. These types of gestures form a mode of speech that is directionless, as the gestures (for the moment) axe partially emptied. Conversely, when Alice Cooper's "Schools Out" slows down, he is "telling" us that "school's been blown to pieces."' (the effect of the malfunctioning record player working as a metaphor). Bowie and Hayzee Fantayzee speak to us in a different way, centring on a different problematic of speech.

Still, one is left to wonder, by implication, where and when this type of directionless, partially emptied speech starts and ends. Surely all songs (for example) speak in terms of a meta narrative, telling us that they "are" songs, with all the structural components that constitute the song as being a song? All textual objects appear to be bound up some way in this dumb tautological existence which by nature short circuits any modernist gesture performed on their anatomy. All endings state themselves this being one of the many indivisible qualities of textuality.

The constructual organization of the cadence in Western diatonic music (from Beethoven to Bill Haley) involves all modes of statement in its endings, be it the awesome powerful tone of finality that closes The 5th Symphony, to the spastic spluttering of an arrhythmic drum burst that punctuates the end of "Rock Around The Clock". Even though the former is based upon a dogma of harmonic rationality while the latter is based upon a sense of compositional absurdity, both examples are involved in the statement of their ending.

As if in answer to such an historical problematic, the "Fade Out" became increasingly prolific (through the technological nature of the recording medium) as a subtle twist on the conventional options for ending a piece of music. Although its musical antecedents are historically blurred, the silent cinema provides us with a textual forerunner of it as a narrative effect. Interestingly enough, as the Fade Out became an understated mode of ending popularly used in the realm of recorded music, the bloated drawn out over climatic ending became a prominent feature of live music. The Fade Out provided a dissolvement of the musical text, a fairly uncontroversial form of ending, because whereas the effect of the tape suddenly stopping (or the record player slowing down; the film stock burning; etc.) is based upon a violent intrusion of technology rupturing the fictional surface, the Fade Out illusionistically recalls the acoustic phenomena (one that has been historically naturalized) of the music realistically decreasing in volume as the listener moves away from its spatial point of occurrence. Thus, the listener is defined within the parameters of realism: a form of comfortable bondage.

Realism is probably the most pathetic socializing agent of the workings of Narrative. Its nature in this light can take on extreme proportions. When Channel 10 ends its transmission usually around 2am on comes that old familiar shot of Melbourne's "skyscrapers". It is a banal yet seductive scene, disorientating because of it being shot at dusk, which accounts for the strong light and glittering buildings : a mixture of night and day. A possibility exists whereby Channel 10 is attempting to end its transmission as a metaphor for the naturalistic socialized ending of the "average working day", one that "ends" with night fall, a period that welcomes in leisure and relaxation (i.e. television watching). In its voice over bidding us "goodnight", Channel 10 does not acknowledge its lie, in that people who work nine to five (like the family depicted in all the current station I.D's) are hardly likely to be watching TV at 2am. This type of ending is not far from the luscious fantasy ending (read: stuff to fool kids) of the Disneyland TV show, where Tinkerbell pulls the blanket of a star filled night across the sky, ending simultaneously the day, the show, and the kids' viewing time. But of course, that's just corny kids' stuff. We know better. And that is the end.

Text © Philip Brophy. Images © respective copyright holders.