Truth Before Dishonor

I would rather be right than popular

Narrative Problems

Posted by DNW on 2014/04/10


I was thinking the other day – not too deeply – about the entire concept of narrative, and how it has so often come to replace reasoning, and how deceptively difficult trying to construct a really accurate narrative can be. Maybe that is why those who seem to do it most, also seem to be the least concerned with literal accuracy.

It’s one thing to engage in the geometric arrangement of premisses and conclusions employing technical language, once you learn the discipline.

It’s quite another to try and manage a truthful recounting of human events (as historians well know) when so many different aspects to the “story” must be dealt with in a manner consistent with the overall tenor of the presentation.

This was personally highlighted for me just the other evening where in what was an exercise in the main, I attempted a descriptive recounting of a commenting foray I made on The Atlantic.

I found that certain passages, no matter how I reworked them just didn’t come out right. I finally realized the next day that I was trying to conflate, I was inappropriately mixing, my post hoc psychological attitudes of overall amusement into what was, and was meant to be an accurate factual description.

This came to me when I reread a particularly jarring passage wherein I had jestingly (after some initial skepticism about its fit) used the term “gambit” in what was intended to be a light way; but which was totally at odds with the more distanced tone of the overall presentation. The experience of rereading what I wrote was like having cold water dumped down my back. I knew what I meant but it could not be read right. Yet, no matter how I tried to rework the reference, it didn’t lend itself to the intended interpretation. Even rewriting the reference entirely didn’t make it any better.

And the reason I finally discovered, was not only found in the in-congruence of seeing a light-facetious use, blended with a desultory overall mood, but also because I was trying to fit my flippant psychological attitude post-event, to a more straightforward and prosaic truth.

This back projection or retrofitting of intentions (or events) in order to match a planned narrative or current feeling, is perhaps most familiar to us from some infamous politically staked, but clearly anachronistic or impossible claims: Hillary Clinton’s assertion that she was named after Edmund Hillary, for example; or her husband Bill’s “burning church” memories. Or John Kerry’s ‘Christmas in Cambodia’ for that matter.

The obvious trouble involved in these instances of handling timelines, seems to be a particular problem for political liberals. Whether the timeline trouble they experience is a matter of demonstrable facts tripping up deliberate fabrications, or the result of a genuine psychological difficulty progressives have in grasping cause and effect, antecedent and consequent, prior and subsequent, in the face of their driving need for constructing a self-justifying narrative with broad social impact, is a question I cannot personally answer.

What I can say from recent experience is, that constructing a readable narrative, one that is anything more than a chronicle, that is to say anything more than a chronological checklist of noticed events, is a rather tricky proposition; and requires care on a number of levels.

5 Responses to “Narrative Problems”

  1. AOTC said

    I don’t think I had trouble following you. I am terrible at putting thoughts to text but strangely clairvoyant when organizing or interpretation of others. Im dyslexic of mind regarding output but stangely intuitive to input. Maybe this is why people think I am stupid. Heh.

    I have thoughts and comments forthcoming on posts here but currently doing quarterly taxes. Lurking for now. 🙂

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  2. DNW said

    “I don’t think I had trouble following you. I am terrible at putting thoughts to text but strangely clairvoyant when organizing or interpretation of others.”

    You are obviously a better reader than I am a writer.

    Part of my problem, a wooden and mechanical style, lies in the fact that almost all the writing I have ever done was either meant to be reviewed by professors or to appear before for a hostile audience seeking to “fisk” what I was saying. This rules out a casual and naturalistic manner of writing wherein something can be left out as understood or naturally implied.

    But, when you are mostly engaged in controversy with leftist troll types when writing, you can expect that anything not triple nailed will be pried up; that the slightest possibility of an alternate interpretation will be seized upon; and, that any of the normal uses of irony, facetiousness, exaggeration for effect, or self-deprecation will be turned about by the left-wing troll things you are confronting.

    No they don’t hold themselves to the same standard of course. But then they are not really arguing, so much as waging verbal war by “whatever means necessary”, as they are so fond of saying.

    I often accuse conservatives of being trapped in a double bind in social and political dealings with the left, resulting from their own conservative moral sensibilities. Yet there is something similar to that which takes place in even trying to “communicate” with them. You find yourself struggling to scrupulously work within, maintain, and abide the rules of a rational standard of argumentation (and personal honor): a code which they themselves have little or no interest in abiding; since, they think that ultimately any conclusions drawn from such argumentation carry no moral weight in the face of brute fact appetite and desire, anyway. Arguing with a liberal then, is somewhat like arguing with a wild animal that has learned to deploy the English language in order to get what it wants, or to provoke annoyance in others as a means to getting what it wants, but an animal having little understanding of, or concern for, the actual meaning of what it is saying.

    This fact of political life even affects the manner in which you can phrase a simple assertion. No “generalization” can be used without making special reference to it being a generalization. And any modifiers to a categorical assertion or generalization have to be included in such a way that they cannot be snipped off the head or tail of a comment by a quoting antagonist; which he merely signals with an ellipsis that might, and is usually meant to be, overlooked by an unwary reader. But, three dots appearing in the middle of a supposedly outrageous quote, such as “Kill … all leftists” tends to give the lefty troll’s outrage quote game away.

    He has then only the choices of engaging in open falsification which he can then be caught out and exposed on, or of reducing the power of his attack by tacitly admitting through proper punctuation, that he has quoted deceptively.

    However this defensive writing (especially if you are writing “live” and don’t intend to rewrite) makes for long and convoluted sentences sometimes. As well as for sentences that sound as if they are English translations of Latin, or English spoken according to some of the rules of Latin grammar.

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  3. AOTC said

    speaking of narrative problems… this clown is an enigma wrapped in an irony, with a giant turd topping.

    L. freaking O. L. !! :O

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  4. […] On Truth Before Dishonor, DNW philosophizes about narrative problems. […]

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  5. Eric said

    The trick, I think, is NOT to play the game by the enemy’s rules, but rather your own. PJ O’Rourke is excellent at this, one reason he is one of my favorite writers. I have probably learned more about effective political writing from him than anyone else, and that includes William F Buckley. Much of O’Rourke’s success is due to: 1) He never forgets that the left wing enemy is, in fact, the enemy, and 2) He has learned that using humor and ridicule are often much more effective rhetorical weapons than simply engaging in dry, “Factual” debate.

    Or, in other words, if the left wingers are scum, why not *treat* them like scum?

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