The Beautiful Unfinished and The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema

Ripley, Alien Resurrection

I find it difficult to finish things. Poems, art projects, cups of coffee. I had zero chance of finishing the novels I used to write as a teenager. Perhaps this is what drew me to poetry initially – the quickness of it, the fleeting stab at insight, the way an idea can be crystallised to a grain of sand in a few lines and then left, to either be mused over or forgotten about.

There was talk of the now defunct Succour magazine holding a themed submissions call for incomplete written pieces one might find on their desktop. I loved this idea, and really wish they’d gone ahead with it. In fact, I wish another magazine would take the idea up. Where else are those fragments supposed to go? Your burst of creativity that only ever amounted to a synopsis, or the first two stanzas of a poem, or a few pages of script for a play – in what format can they be expected to find a home? You must consider how hard it is to go back to something you were writing two or three years ago and complete it. So much will have changed, your mood, your experience, your skills. Chances are you won’t be in the same mindset as you were when you wrote that first, unfinished, paragraph, so do we just leave these truncated pieces to rot on our hard drives forever?

No. I think these premature babies deserve a home.

In his documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, the philosopher Slavoj Zizek discusses this concept. He talks of the theory that our world is not fully real or fully constructed, that the person who made it was a buffoon who fumbled the drop, and so our world remains half finished. As a result, there’s this idea of an ultimate version of self which continually haunts us – the things we might have been, but sadly are not (as illustrated by Ripley in Alien Resurrection discovering the horror laboratory in which all previous attempts at cloning her lay about, malformed and half-dreamed).

What he’s talking about here is the unfinished as a permanent source of frustration for humans, a ghostly niggling in the backs of our minds, a reminder of the wholly complete state of being we cannot reach. What I want to find is a way of making the incomplete acceptable, welcome, desired. A great deal of the time, I find the bare bones of an idea to be enough, without the need for fleshing out. Sometimes, you only need to watch the two minute trailer for a film in order for it to take root in your heart and fill you up, and you can flesh out the skeleton of that trailer in your own mind without needing to see the film itself. But, you go watch the film anyway, and afterwards you either feel a vague sense of overkill, or that the film has in fact ruined the beautiful preconceptions of what you imagined it was going to be about.

If we run with the idea proposed by Slavoj Zizek in this documentary, then really we are at one with the unfinished pieces of life – we are their kin, and our contrivance to forge completed stories is a foolish one and simply a drive born out of frustration to excel our own half-constructed existences. This is why I think a collection of incomplete stories, poems and ideas would be a gorgeous little thing, something small and precious you’d want to keep (and something I’m almost definitely going to try, one day). It would give you the seeds of ideas, which your heart would then be free to nourish, a kind of collaborative creativity, across minds and time and distance; what somebody begins somewhere in Japan in the germ of a novel three years ago, I will continue or finish here, now, in Britain. Imagine all the weaving of ideas snaking over the earth, like a million batons our minds pick up from each other and run with.

So, any editors out there reading this, won’t you consider a submission call dedicated solely to the neglected saplings gathering dust, on discs and on stacks of paper tucked away in drawers? What if we don’t look for endings, or even middles? How about a world of beginnings, of opening paragraphs, of first scenes? Our imaginations can fill in the rest.