Archive for November 23rd, 2007

Reality is…?

Multiple realities seem to be easier to contemplate if they are not personal and are part of the world at large. The other day I recorded a quote from the Dalai Lama about two realities—the deep-thinking Buddhist one of the DL and a few others, and that of the rest of us. Today I’ll note a comment from Pierre Bayard’s Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? (1998; English translation 2000). Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd came out in 1926, and caused a bit of a flurry when the (il?)literati realized that the narrator of the mystery story was the guy who-dun-it (this is widely known, so this can hardly be considered a spoiler).

Most lit-crit types go on about how unheard of this was, and are both pro and con on the merits of this twist. Of course, in conventional Chinese “detective” stories, the evil-doer is known from almost the beginning, and the accent in the stories is on how s/he is trapped and what the punishment is (e.g., Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee series, translations), so how innovative Christie was is questionable.

Back to Bayard. He writes about what he calls the delusion of interpretation, that Christie’s Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, was delusional when he pronounced his conclusions about the story’s murder to those involved, at a typical Christie gathering of involved characters. Bayard notes:

Constructing a delusion at least offers one advantage: It allows us an alternative way of reflecting on a true reading. Often one poses the question in the most traditional manner, by wondering how to approach the true. It may be of interest, however, to post the question from another angle and to wonder, rather, how to approach the false by exploring it from within, thus rendering it familiar.

One assumes that honest exam questions where the testee is asked to answer either true or false includes only statements that are unequivocally true or false. In the real world, what we far more frequently encounter is something in the middle, perhaps either mostly true or mostly false*. Or, sometimes, situationally true or situationally false.

Certainly, Bayard’s point that you can understand the nuances of any situation better by teasing out the fine points of both the apparent truths and apparent falsehoods, and multiple realities in general, is, I think, fine advice.

* One of the most memorable uses of the qualifier “mostly” must be in the movie The Princess Bride (1987), when Miracle Max (Billy Crystal), a sort of healer, pronounces the hero, Westley (Carey Elwes) to be “mostly dead” when he is apparently dead, and after treatment becomes mostly paralyzed. This is a truly fine movie, even without considering some of the monsters the hero and heroine must overcome are ROUS (Rodents Of Unusual Size).