Exhaustion- a possible working definition

by Arran James

In recent posts the term Exhaustion has come up again and again, the repetition itself a performance of exhaustion. That it repeats, that I write it as capitalised, reveals to me as much as to any notional reader that it is a term become key to these reflections. A working definition then, found whilst searching for a piece by Roland Barthes to include in a paper I’m writing elsewhere regarding anorexia nervosa- an apt accident. The definition then:

By ‘exhaustion’ I don’t mean anything so tired as the subject of physical, moral, or intellectual decadence, only the used-upness of certain forms or the felt exhaustion of certain possibilities– by no means a cause for despair.

It comes from the work of John ‘Jack’ Barth, an American novelist and short story writer I had not heard of until dredging his name from the murk of a Google search. The essay ‘The Literature of the Exhausted’, according to the Wikipedia entry, was something of a manifesto for postmodernism, a term which itself is exhausted and exhausting.

So Exhaustion: the felt exhaustion of certain possibilities.