Consummatum est; it is done, finished, ended, consumed. The significance of endings and beginnings is old in anthropology. Van Gennep marshaled the logic adding to it an all important image – sure enough there can be no 'self' without beginnings and endings (or vice versa) - and the primary metaphor of end and initiation is a doorway or threshold (limen). Simmel muddies the water (literally perhaps) when he says that you can begin again as well by crossing a bridge, as by passing through a door, but the feeling tone diverges – the open door offers a narrowed glimpse of what is beyond. Over the bridge the horizon is free to view; you walk or ride or drive above an obstacle that you might have had difficulty wading through. The quantitative on/off narrowness of ritual - end-then-begin - seeps away when it blends into the multiform qualitative – Bridge of Sighs, suspension bridge, Bridge of San Luis Rey, clapper bridge, Bridge on the river Kwai… When they burst out freeze-frame into a hail of bullets, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid evade our moral-quantitative finite. We celebrate their infinitely postponed ending. As we do those sad non-endings of film noir.
Hegel and Marx add summative end-states as necessary frames for their philosophies of process – everything builds toward the finish, but then what? By contrast somewhere I think - I wish I could
remember where - Marx refers to that great indicator of democratic new beginnings, voting, as ‘wearing a lion shirt for a day’ – the end, he suggests, is not so big and the beginning is not so clever as we pretend. In St John’s Gospel, Christ is offered vinegar. He accepts it and says ‘it is finished’; then he bows his head and ‘gives up the ghost’. And, in one of his essays, Kant argues that without the notion of a theological end of everything - a great summing up - self-reflective morality would be impossible. Elsewhere he makes a parallel point – noone wishes for a fleet of 999 ships, they strive for the 1000th – the magic of quantitative culmination. Is it a particular Christian myth and a familiar architecture that continue to shape anthropological interest in rites of passage? – what of people who don’t pursue lives enclosed by walls. Without thresholds, can what they know of themselves begin and end in a comparable sense? Of course - as Leach says about ‘ritual’ - this matter of beginnings and ends can be as big or as small as you like – it can describe any attempt to punctuate what you feel you want to communicate.