Yearning to know the end of the story

Of course my take on the need to know the story’s outcome is a little more Narnia than Oedipus Rex. But both, I think, apply.

There are two reasons for wanting to know the future: to help you decide between alternative courses of action, or because you just have to know.

As a writer, I’m more interested in the second reason, which seems to me to be implicated in most forms of prognostication.  Why do people get their DNA sequenced?  Partly in order to make better health decisions, but partly for aesthetic reasons.  We have always believed the secrets of human identity and human destiny to be inscribed on the body — etched in the palm, encoded in a “Habsburg lower lip,” or recorded on the Y chromosome. 

In prognostication, identity and destiny are inextricably linked. This is because we can only understand human identity as a narrative — and the meaning of a narrative depends on its ending. Without knowing what happens to us, we don’t know who we were all along. Hence the last line of “Oedipus Rex”: “Count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last.”


from “The Goal of Predictions: ‘Who Am I?’,” by Elif Batuman, NYTimes.com, 29 December 2010 :: via My Life and Thoughts

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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