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The End: Theories and Practices of narrative endings

Graduate Student Conference

Department of German Studies

Cornell University, Ithaca, NY


November 11-12, 2016


Keynote Speaker: Fritz Breithaupt, Indiana University Bloomington



“A whole is that which has a beginning and middle and end.” (Aristotle, Poetics)


The graduate students in German Studies at Cornell University invite contributions to this year’s conference on endings and ends. The conference aims to bring together scholars working on the concept of the end and on related questions, and to explore the aesthetics and politics of endings in literature, film, and music.


Whenever we speak of the end, it has either already occurred or is yet to come, and as such is always part of a narrative. We can refer to it by figures of speech or by visual means, but the end itself remains intangible, thereby doubling the familiar semiotic problem of representation. On the one hand, talking about the end and even telling the end is in vogue, and has been since the beginnings of literature. On the other hand, we cannot conceive of the concept of an ending without also returning to narratives. The end is always a part of a story, from the tick-tock of the clock (Kermode) to Hamlet, from the end of history to the apocalypse.


Philosophical and theoretical approaches to the end of the world, the end of art (Hegel, Danto), the end of history (Fukuyama), or the end of the novel (Lukács, Benjamin), among others, guide our interest and shape our questions. These influential narratives, however, are themselves more or less grands récits and, consequently, ignorant to the ways in which endings in literature, film, and music renegotiate their own roles over time. The decline of the theoretical master narratives since the 1970s and 1980s has made possible a more textured, media-specific understanding of what ‘end’ and ‘ending’ might mean.


This conference addresses precisely the question of endings in their various manifestations: How do stories end? What can endings tell us about concepts of the end?  Do specific semantic and conceptual articulations of the idea of the ending affect our textual practices? What is the relation between the ending and the rest of the story? Where does the ending begin, and where does it end? Is our contemporary conception of endings unique as compared to other periods of history?


We also encourage participants to engage with endings in regards to the theoretical literature on the subject. For example, this discourse is developed further in Frank Kermode’s Sense of an Ending, Hart Nibbrig’s Ästhetik der letzten Dinge, and the discussions in the “Poetik und Hermeneutik” volume on Das Ende. Figuren einer Denkform.


We welcome suggestions for papers relating to concepts of the end, including but not limited to the following topics:



Abstracts for 20-minute presentations are due by July 15, 2016. Please send your paper proposals (around 300 words) to Matthias Müller at [log in to unmask].

For further details on the conference and for updates please see our conference website.

******************* The German Studies Call for Papers List Editor: Sean Franzel Assistant Editor: Olaf Schmidt Sponsored by the University of Missouri Info available at: http://grs.missouri.edu/resources/gerlistserv.html