I used to teach my students how to write a basic 5 paragraph essay with a very simple formula: come up with a main idea, spend three paragraphs describing three sub ideas that support that main idea, and then repeat yourself in the conclusion paragraph to remind the reader of what your main idea was, in case they got too caught up with your support.
That’s fine for a certain style of argumentative essay.
I know that whenever it came to taling with friends about many important things, I’d often give my advice like this:
“Considering X, Y and Z, the bottom line is that….”
there was always a bottom line.
And from there, followed their decision.
See, a conclusion is a necessary thing in all forms of entertainment. In a novel, in a movie, a poem, an essay, a joke– even if it makes you think of something else, the conclusion is the point in the stream of thought where the idea’s presentation has been concluded. The lesson was somewhere in there, the whole point was somewhere in there, but it wasn’t really summarized or focused until the conditions or the development was laid out there to lay the groundwork, wherupon a conclusion could be slammed.
I bring this up for two reasons.
The first is that when it comes to real life, there are very few conclusions. Things never really REALLY end. People say they forget, people say they move on, and while it is true in degrees, we can’t separate ourselves from our pasts. And so one of the things I hate people doing is making things dramatic in the sense that they present their lives in terms of intro, development and conclusion– when in reality, I don’t see any conclusions until you’re dead. Yet people make all these manifestos, declaring their resolution to do this this or that. Never say never, and above all, never say always, you know? I mean, I don’t deny that I’ve gone through instances in my life where I didn’t know up from down, and thus, it certainly did look like a dead end– but what I’m saying is that we shouldn’t be abusing that state of “where the fuck am I?” because thinking it is in itself the actualization of being lost. On the other hand, being lost doesn’t mean you’re not where you want to be, and neither does it mean that you are without destination.
I think that nowadays a great demographic has really become either goal obsessed, or obsessed with finding goals, but in both cases, they miss the fact that the conclusion really is quite similar to the begining except insofar as it’s been developed by the middle bits. We like quotes, we like maxims, because they summarize things and take away the responsibility of all the stuff in between by jumping us to the ending. That said, who’s to say that an essay in itself can’t arrive at a conclusion different from the hypothesis? If we can accept that perahps the exercise of working through the body of the work may lead to something different from the initial idea, then doesn’t the idea of a conclusion seem kinda useless?
I think though that we like the labels. I like saying that I’ve got this or that certificate, because it’s something that I’ve earned, it’s a conclusion to a chunk of experiences. It’s nice to say that we got this trophy there, or that this photo corresponds to this love, out of the many, loves of my life. It’s nice to have things to put on a resume of life, it makes me feel deep. Or something.
What if I told you, “I hate you!”
“I trust you.”
“I don’t think of you like that.”
“I love you.”
Do you think that any of that would be forever? Do you think that any of that is, in itself, a conclusion, without any futher trudging along to be done?
But really, wouldn’t it be so much cooler to not do any of that? To just move forward, like Bilbo Baggins, with just a quill and never really with an ending?
The second application of conclusion that I loathe is in case number two, which has to do with problem solving. Or rather, when someone finds a conclusion (a solution)– but doesn’t apply it. A lot of people go through all this presentation to come to this conclusion and then it’s just that– a presentation. It’s gift wrapping that hides what’s inside, where there should be something heavy and substantial, which turns out to be absolutely nothing. The box could be empty. But god, don’t we love wrapping things up? You know the kind of person I’m talking about– the person who tells you their life story and then comes to this terrible or groundbreaking conclusion at the end. But after you hear it, it doesn’t change you, it doesn’t change them, because it was all talk.
But why go through all that trouble to make taht conclusion if it was never going to make any difference except in a theory which would be sneezed away moments later?
Why obess over trying to find answers, and maybe even getting there, if it never is really applied anywhere? We can be heroes, but more than that, we like to be treated like heroes, and more than that, we can be victims, because the best hero is a tragic one.
I mean, in an ideal world, maybe there wouldn’t be any conclusions. We’d just live in the present and every moment would be like in the world of art where diagonals imply a need to either stablize by becoming balanced and vertical or fall to rest horizontally. But never in a picture does that diagonal get resolved– the conclusion is the tension, which really means, it’s really not over, not yet.
Hit the ground running.
Maybe we don’t need conclusions at all and we should just