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The Dominoes of Life -- Writer's Poke #407

In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner writes, “why should fiction have profluence – our sense, as we read, that we’re ‘getting somewhere’?” Gardner’s use of the word “profluence” is peculiar, but the idea of fiction needing to get somewhere – beginning, middle, and end – is as old as Aristotle.

The postmodernists rejected the idea, but who still reads most of their stuff? Yet, if profluence is true for fiction, is it also true for life? While it’s possible to dissect a human life into its “beginning, middle, and end," the person living that life does not always have the luxury of knowing how his life is segmented. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln, for example, cut his life short, as we say, suggesting that his life stopped before the final chapters were written.

It may be true that a feeling of profluence compels people to get on about the business of living. Think of the pressures people feel to check off specific milestones by certain ages. Some of these pressures may or may not be as prominent as they once were, but don’t most people still feel obligated to marry, to have children, etc.? To fail to do so can cause some people to feel a sense of discontentment. To succeed in checking off the milestones can likewise cause some people to feel a sense of discontentment if these goals are forced upon them by family or society – and yet, individuals may willingly go through with checking off x, y, or z simply because they think they need to – after all, at least they’re getting somewhere.

What life-stage do you think you’re in now? How strong is your perceived need to "get somewhere" in your life?

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche


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