In this paper I consider questions of coherence and sequence in narrative research and explore their conditions of possibility and their effects. What happens, I ask, when the Aristotelian plot and the coherent self cannot be identified? Who gets excluded and to what effect when narratives are trapped within restrictive models of analysis? In focusing on a quantifiable and divisible model of time that underpins the conception of narratives in terms of linearity, completeness and closure, the paper charts a plane of analysis wherein narratives are taken as ‘portraits of moments’—textual and visual traces of eruptions and events. Such an analytical stance draws on Hannah Arendt’s philosophy and particularly the connections she has made between life histories and the discourse of History. In this context completion is examined not in terms of narrative closure but as an agential cut in making meaning about ‘the lives of others’.