Tuesday, November 01, 2011


Here's the place that AC Doyle ran into trouble: more than one explanation can fit a fact. When Sherlock and Mycroft compare notes on the gentleman walking by in the street, they speak with definiteness that a particular gait can only come from having been at sea, and the only possible explanation for his carrying certain items is that he has children. Or, when Sherlock notes that a particular form of the letter "a" used declares the writer to be German, and of a certain height, it all ties together so nicely. The possibility that the man (or women) had a German schoolmaster who forced him to write that way, or that he reverted to that form because he slipped and had to make the accidental line into something, simply does not come up in the reasoning.

It is a comforting fiction, that we can read a set of clues which point us to a single answer, but real life isn't like that. All evidence is ambiguous and could point in several directions. It is the accumulation that points us in a direction.

It stems from our preference for resolved narrative. Reading a story of a woman who had an unhappy childhood and difficult life for 75 years, who found love, or meaning, or acceptance over the last five years of her life strikes us as a good life. It's a good story; it would make a good movie; therefore, it is a good life. The woman who has 75 wonderful years but ends it being sick or lonely the last five years seems to be a sad story, and a sad life. Funny thing. We rather think that even when it's our own life we are talking about. The drive for resolution is powerful. But if you had to choose going in which scenario you wanted, most of us would take the one with the good 75 and endure the lousy 5 as a small offset.

In mentioning The Moth, and relating it to testimony Sunday, I saw this same phenomenon. We insist that our life be understood as some sort of story, that it is going somewhere. Some of us feel at some deep level that belief in God necessitates belief in a narrative or trajectory of our lives, which we are tasked with discovering and enacting. I don't know that this is actually true - we just think it. Jesus's command not to be concerned for the morrow or what we should wear, but to let the day's trouble be sufficient unto itself, would likely speak against that interpretation.


Dubbahdee said...

On the other hand, his insistence on framing some of his most important proclamations as stories would suggest their might be something to it.

I read it this way (h/t to R.F. Capon)

We lift up our world and our actions in it as offerings. We are priests in the order of Adam, and our priesthood is the fashioning of meaning out of chronology so that it becomes history.

So yeah...it's about stories.

terri said...

I think your point about resolution is a true one.

Even in the area of religious beliefs, the idea that no matter how awful a person's life on earth might have been it can be salvaged by a blessed after-life with God, is probably one of the most basic ideas.

Somehow the story will be made right and all of our suffering and misfortune will seem purposeful, or at least remediated.

Doubt, then, is the fear that the story won't resolve as we hoped it would, that there is no resolution, or even a story to believe in.

Narrative is a powerful thing. Having a narrative broken is devastating thing. When the trajectory is lost we don't have any way to orient ourselves to our surroundings.

Sam L. said...

So far as I can tell, my life can be narrated, but there is no "narrative", only a sequence of events that bear a semblance of resemblance to one another.

But what do I know; I'm making it up as I go.

Texan99 said...

Jesus didn't encourage us to think that the important thing about our lives was the story that could be told in terms of what kind of good or bad stuff happened to us, or in what order, or with how high a level of drama.

But He did imply that a lot depended on every choice we made, and even on whether we got it right in the end -- when the bridegroom comes, are our lamps full? Did we grow into a crop or a weed? That implies the importance of a narrative line to me.