The Invention Of The Chapter

Nicholas Dames reflects on it:

The unassuming quality of the chapter, its way of not insisting on its importance but marking a transition nonetheless, turns out to be its most useful, if also its most vexing, quality.

It is a vocabulary for noting the way we can organize our pasts into units. Some things stop; others begin. We note these shifts, in relationships or jobs or domiciles, reassured that the environing story itself – our lives – are still ongoing. But how do we know when we are starting a new chapter? How are we justified in picking a moment out of fluid passing time and declaring a pause?

This is the ambiguity that the novel learned to love. As Thomas Mann wrote in The Magic Mountain, “Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunder-storm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.” …. Those subsequently applied divisions, which seem so distant from the actions performed within the story, ironize the very act of dividing up time even while providing a model for doing so. How could anyone in those stories have known when a new chapter was beginning? How can we?