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.
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