by Michael Angerer
Every ending is an invitation to look forward. As we move through time, the impenetrable murk ahead, like infinite layers of cobwebs, resolves into wispy strands of memory that trail behind us; and with every new layer we brush aside, we hope to get a glimpse of the next. This, ultimately, is how stories captivate us: by pretending to pre-empt what might yet be to come, by shaping a path for our lives to follow into the uncertain future. The tales of Gilgamesh, Odysseus or Siegfried captivate us because they are in essence tales of human experience; they bring narrative order into a world that seems to have none. How easy is it to map their pattern onto our own: tomorrow we will finally get our act together and frustrate the malevolent gods out to ruin our day.
It is comforting to believe every story has its resolution, a point at which all narrative strands run out and are tied to our own experience. The once and future king can only be future because he once ceased to be; he became part of ourselves, a chivalric ideal that shapes past and future alike. Our memory and all the little stories it contains: it is such stuff as dreams are made on, and as they seep into our mind past becomes prologue. The dense fog ahead is condensed into a grid of familiarity, of precedents that present old ways to resolve new difficulties.
Thus the unknown is adapted and reshaped to fit our expectations; slowly it shifts into focus and the increased resolution allows us to discern ever more details. We learn to recognise unfolding patterns and devote our attention to what seems incongruous. But even when our wishes, our hopes, our confidence, and our predictions are proven wrong, we merely perceive this as a departure from the pattern events should have followed; the unexpected is but an occasional episode in a general drama of order. We trust the stories of the past, and the waterway of time seems to lead into an immense brightness.
It is only this illusion of knowing our destination that allows us to resolve which course to take. Our minds are full of half-remembered patterns, expectations and desires: we have had our vision; we mean to realise it. And so we beat on, boats in the current, borne forward ceaselessly while we try to steer them into the direction we hope to take. Yet however carefully and after however much thought we choose a title and a genre for the story of our life, we cannot aspire to truly wield the power of an author. Inevitably, as time advances, it dictates the shape we can superimpose upon it. At the end of term, at the end of the year, you can make as many good resolutions as you wish; you know exactly that in a few weeks’ time, they will have dissolved into nothingness under the pressure of reality.