Friday, January 6, 2017

The Detective Story in the Post-Something Age

I spend a lot of time - you can ask people who have to deal with me in physical form - trying to figure out what makes something "true." To the uninitiated this may seem like common sense, but to a person who has spent literally the last twenty years reading complicated philosophical texts, it's not nearly as clear as it seems.

Here's a simple example - we all learn that objects fall at 9.8 meters per second squared.  But where does this occur?  In a vacuum.  So the statement about falling objects is true in a world none of us inhabit.  Now in no way does this mean that fact is untrue.  Or that the scientific constant is not useful.  That statement about the speed objects fall is true and it's useful.  It's just that it's only true under certain conditions.  Most things are only true under certain conditions.  Here's another example - the thing I'm sitting on right now is a chair.  Until I need to change a light-bulb.  Then it's a step ladder.

Truth is both local and general.

The genre that has best represented the search for truth is the detective genre.  Now think about the way truth works in these books/movies/Matlock episodes.  We start not knowing much, usually being wrong about a guess or two.  But then as the plot moves to the conclusion we learn what really happened.  All the clues add up to a coherent picture and Matlock gets to leave the court house 100K richer and eat hotdogs off the street cart.  (Apologies if some of you did not have a grandmother with whom to compulsively watch Matlock, Murder She Wrote, and Perry Mason.)

This formula is hopeful as shit.  The more we learn, the more we understand the whole.

And now let's talk about JFK.  The Zapruder film has been seen by everyone.  Is the problem with the JFK assassination that we don't know enough information?  That we don't have enough theories?  Of course not.  We have too many damn theories.  And moreover here's an example where we all see what happened and yet, none of us is sure of what happened.  This is a different world.

Similarly - think about the way conspiracy theories proliferated about 9/11.  Films like Loose Change and In Plane Sight became shared on the internet and were treated as scholarly material by a lot of people who didn't know any better.  Again - the issue isn't that there wasn't enough information.

So it seems something is happening.  Now it seems we are in an age where things to not add up to a coherent narrative.  Truth is always-already fractured and fragmented and fractal - something like a Serpinksi triangle.  Clues aren't adding up to truth anymore.  Essentially Raymond Chandler has been replaced by Thomas Pynchon - long true for the academic world - but now true for the general world as well.  Maybe the fact that Inherent Vice got made into a film signals something?

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