This paper engages the paradoxical literary phenomena known as “unfinished works” from two distinct perspectives. First, it offers a Foucauldian analysis of the history of the unfinished label: its rhetorical functions, the ideologies that enable and underlie it, and the types of conversations it has inspired and undermined. Second, after clarifying the unfinished/unfinishable distinction and critiquing the rhetoric of failure that has traditionally dominated literary-philosophical discourses on “unfinishedness,” the paper uses Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet and Robert Musil’s Man Without Qualities (amongst other texts) to articulate a theory of “unfinishable novels,” defined as “novels that can only be finished as unfinished works.” In conclusion, the paper points to the postwar rise in “circular” and “open-ended” novels as symptomatic of a larger literary shift from “unfinishability” to “unfinalizability,” a shift that can itself be read as constitutive (at least within the history of the novel) of the transition from modernism to postmodernism.


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pp. 125-142
Launched on MUSE
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