Articles - 17th February 2020

The Final Act

Words by Elinor Potts
Illustration by Oscar Price

A peck on the cheek will sometimes suffice. Some prefer a handshake, a wave, a referendum or a conscious uncoupling, whilst others simply vaporise in a puff of pink smoke. I rarely instigate goodbyes, I mull memories of happier times and when it’s time to go, I mourn imagined futures. I’ve trialed many methods; drawn-out adieus, ghostings and botched estrangements. In the moment of departure, it’s difficult to summon the right words. Is this a finite farewell? Can you carve a friendship from the bruised ruins of a clumsily-concluded relationship? Like the recently departed Harry and Megan will attest post-‘Megxit’, it’s often best to cut ties and pay back your debts before things turn sour. Jack Kerouc best captures the essence of painfully slow conclusions, asking in On the Road, “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

On my roadtrip across the perilous continent of puberty, my friend Marnie and I liberated an unspeakable quantity of raw bacon from the school canteen. We liberally dispersed the stolen meat around the school like would-be Devonian Duchamps, desperate to be remembered by our Year 11 peers before parting ways for Sixth Form College. Whilst the rest of our cohort were preoccupied with drawing erect penises on each other’s shirts, we suspended the bacon on string in the hallways, leaving random rashers on toilet seats, desks, lockers and radiators. This was a thoroughly thoughtless, apolitical, uncalculated act of youthful idiocy, wishfully yearning for teenage recognition. 

As Emily and Jack will be pleased to read, I don’t presently have any intentions to scatter raw flesh around the UnderPinned offices. Instead, I offer this final cultural column as a clean, unscented meditation on cultural curtain-calls. 

From James Blunt’s ‘Goodbye My Lover’ to Robbie Williams’ anthemic ‘Angels’, the farewell ballad is a crucial player of Spotify heartbreak playlists across the web. For songwriters such as Paul Simon, parting ways is an instructional step-by-step process, simply executed through “Slip[ping] out the back,” “Mak[ing] a new plan,” and evading coyness as a means of liberating oneself from the shackles of contemporary love. If you’ve exhausted Simon’s meticulous list of tactics for hasilty waving off unwanted company, the final option is always light murder. As the Dixie Chicks immortalised in their 1999 classic ‘Goodbye Earl‘ and Be Your Own Pet later peddled in their murderous Pop-Punk pledge, ‘Becky’, sometimes, we are left with no choice. 

Watching Boon Jong-ho’s tragicomic Oscar-winning Parasite between fearful fingers and behind clenched teeth, exits are exquisitely employed to critique late capitalism’s socio-economic divisions. The tension lies in the crossover of the two spheres, when the incoming family occupy the empty home of their upper-class hosts, and are quickly forced to pack-up. Our fury towards classist injustices are so pent-up, that the murders we witness become subversively, chillingly glorious. When their lives are so deeply enmeshed, there is no other method of separation. Through sketching the unfairness of a divided class system, Boon Jong-ho recodes our moral compasses with a splattered, crimson excellence. 

There are plenty of books which assemble the final reflections of great, white, male minds from Kierkegaard to David Foster Wallace, recently including Philosopher Mark C. Taylor’s Last Works: Lessons in Leaving (2018). Interrogating departure beyond the predictable, the Bronx-based conceptual Artist Glenn Ligon studies absence with a postcolonial lens that structures the complex signifiers of Black male identity in the US. Ligon’s lithographs in the ‘Runaways’ series riffs on themes of slavery and personal/political loss through popular culture, visualising an image of a Black slave, also called Glenn, who Ligon subtitles with an illustrative passage (“a shortish, broad-shouldered black man, pretty dark skinned the glasses…”) echoing the descriptions of absentees typically read on posters, milk cartons, police reports and old newspapers; signaling the contemporaneous effects of the Atlantic slave trade. In Ligon’s ‘Condition Report’, currently on exhibit at London’s Thomas Dane gallery, two frames read ‘I AM A MAN’ with the second iteration quietly annotated in small script that notices fingerprints, dark spots and imperfections in the paper quality. Ligon’s work is conceptually simple, but never without force or flair. 

My cultural hour is over, I’ll leave the key under the plant pot. Although the artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman’s dying wish is yet to materialise (“I want the world to be filled with white fluffy duckies”) perhaps, as Vladimir Nabokov mumbled before slipping into the afterlife,“A certain butterfly is already on the wing.” Thank you for catching cultural butterflies with me, and however you choose to depart, my advice would be to do it quietly, gracefully and with as little homicide as possible. 

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