Man in a Sidecar: Madness, Totality and Narrative Drive in the Short Story

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Taking as its starting point the philosopher Stanley Cavell’s brief reflections on
Poe’s ‘The Imp of the Perverse’ and writing as self-understanding, self-concealment and madness – and as its founding image Cary Grant speaking of love alone in a sidecar in I Was a Male War Bride – this chapter considers the relation between totality and incompleteness in the short story, focussing in particular on the incompletion of desire as a way of discussing the formal issues involved. If the modernist short story is so often thought of as an emblem of formal closure (the single gesture or unitary narrative shape), it often deals with notions of interruption and nonpresence, and with a certain madness created by the inability to account for the other.

The essay considers two classic modernist stories of incomplete desire – Joyce’s
‘The Dead’ and Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Stranger’ – and compares them to two sets of postmodern short stories, the ‘chain stories’ of the English writer David Mitchell and the stories of the American David Foster Wallace (in particular the title story of Oblivion), exploring the proposition that in the contemporary stories incompleteness is displaced from identity to the narrative in which the self is ostensibly located, radically changing the form itself.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationModernism, Postmodernism, and the Short Story in English
EditorsJorge Sacido
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9789401208321
ISBN (Print)97890420355577
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Cite this