Claire Messud  

Claire Messud  

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 29 1997 3:30 AM

Claire Messud  

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       Friday already. In contemporary parlance, it is time to achieve closure. This seems an ironic undertaking, as we kick off the weekend in which millions celebrate Christ's inability to do just that.
       Not so long ago, closure was, as I understood it, an infrequently used word referring, largely, to the closing of a business's doors, whether for vacation or bankruptcy. Even today, in Washington, D.C., it's something that happens to the local public schools. Just another ugly, perfunctory little word. Sometime in the not-so-distant past, though, it slipped into the vocabulary of literary theorists, via Gestalt theory. Suddenly, it was up to sentences and narratives to achieve closure, an activity for which they were often ill-suited.
       Now, across America, it's up to us all: Closure is our Holy Grail. If fine novels can't manage it, how can we be expected to? But we try. The followers of Heaven's Gate were after it (check out their Web site: "Hale-Bopp brings closure to ..."). Crime victims and their families seek it; the unlucky in love long for it; memoirists claim it, along with its evil twin, redemption. What more sympathetic and tender than the oft-heard question, "Have you achieved closure?" which has a sort of post-coital ring and spreads an aura of intimacy, benevolent or oppressive, depending on your temperament.
       How, in this context, do the French--those archtheorists, responsible for the elegant quicksand of my literary education--refer to closure? They use clôture, I think; but I prefer fermeture--as in "the butcher shop will have its fermeture annuelle in August." It has a certain ring to it, a je ne sais quoi. Perhaps I shall refer, henceforth, to fermeture, in the hope that America's Most Wanted and People will follow suit.
       Fermeture: a little semantic change and the problem is solved. French handily offers the fermeture éclair, or zipper--not to be confused with the chocolate éclair, or tasty dessert--which provides closure, and more than that, closure at lightning speed, readily available in any decent dry-goods department. Why seek the impossible "closure," when fermeture, so practical, is to hand?
       In spite of my discovery, my day winds down with no satisfactory resolution.
       Unsurprising, perhaps, given that I had no satisfactory beginning. The cranes in the neighboring zoo are wailing. The six rabbits in the apartment next door are scrabbling at our shared wall. I have had bed-head all day (which I prefer to call tête de lit)-- a fuzziness of both brain and hair. A chocolate éclair would help a great deal just now, but I am, alas, without. Instead I anticipate, most eagerly, my fermeture quotidienne, known in common parlance as sleep.

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For Cullen Murphy's take on closure, see SLATE's" The Good Word."

Claire Messud is the author of When the World Was Steady (1995), a novel.