Blog Post

Famous last words

Graphics by Michelle Jia : Image Flickr ( I ) 

...tous les mots qui se trouvaient dans ce mot.  --Blanchot

I had occasion to be looking over some old blog entries (elsewhere, elsewhere), and came on something I wrote ten years ago, spurred on by a great post by Ray Davis.  Don't even read this: go read his.

Anyhow, Davis was writing about last lines, and I wanted to write about actual last words, single last words.  I came up with a list of last words that I thought became, so to speak, high pressure hypercompressions of the whole works they ended, spring-loaded convergences of all their energies, ready to explode and blossom into the whole work collapsed as it stops (to allude to one of them) on a dime.  Here are some in a more or less random order (a few are translations):

Yes
the
stead
dead
Admittedly...
dime
Fliday
Scone
home
nick
orphan
endured
everybody
tears
disaster
few
dog
past
wheels
earth
spent
way
trees
drown
raining
supposing
on
new
vision
Time
stars

I was both sort of proud and sort of embarrassed that I could remember most but not all of the works from which I took the last words I quote here.

So, parlor games:

1) How many of these can you get? (I am hoping to be reminded of the three I have forgotten, and also hoping that I am right that these are mostly last words that are so closely interlinked with what they come from that this will mainly be easily solvable.)

2) Pose some yourself.

Part of the point here was to contrast these words with the achieved blandness of other kinds of endings, to see that blandness as an achievement, like the end of Hammett's "$106,000 Blood Money": "I felt tired, washed-out." But perhaps that's for another post.

William Flesch is the author, most recently, of Comeuppance: Costly Signaling, Altruistic Punishment, and Other Biological Components of Fiction (Harvard, 2008), and The Facts on File Companion to 19th Century British Literature.  He teaches the history of poetry as well as the theory of poetic and narrative form at Brandeis, and has been International Chair Professor at the National Taipei University of Technology (2012) and Old Dominion Fellow of the Humanities Council and Visiting Professor at Princeton (2014-15).