Starting, stopping, or continuing a search for truth

by Nick Greer

Suspended Reason writes:

We make the decision to wrap up [a detective quest] partly on pragmatics (“my account is good enough for my purposes”) and partly because of formal structure (“this account has the structure and form of a final answer; it has an internal coherence and completeness as a frame that precludes asking further questions”)

There’s a lot of potential here. Not sure I’d use this particular division though. A classic example is the detective whose personal code and professional code don’t jive. He wants to continue searching, but the powers that be, worried about what he will uncover, call the search to a close. Or the opposite, his profession demands he look at something with a depth he’d rather not, something that reveals something ugly about himself. Pragmatics have material limits, but these limits can be broken by more powerful materialities (e.g. the detective who fuels himself with stimulants or rage) or frameworks (e.g. the commissioner who cracks the whip on the lazy and froward underlings). So there’s too much messy exchange between pragmatics and frameworks for this to be a model I reach for, though it’s not like you were trying to be MECE.

Looking at my book and the giallo and spy texts that inform it, here are a few motivations for starting, continuing, or stopping a search for the truth.

  • The unshakeable image: An act of violence we witness we can’t explain or ignore, often because the image’s excesses/transgression breaks our reality model and we don’t remember all the detail, like having to find the missing piece to complete the puzzle.

  • Loss of a close relation or other innocence: Some are able to ignore violence, corruption, and other evils until they trespass into a character’s personal domain, shattering one set of principles while steeling another: I must honor my close relation by finding justice.

  • Principles masking desire: a detective will claim their professional code motivates them to do the job right, but we sense there’s some deeper wound or desire they’re trying to fulfill, one that naive sentimental texts will resolve and more honest ones won’t. The only reason this detective stops is because he is stopped, usually in death.

  • The haunting: Verging on the cosmic, an unsettled feeling or thought can only be dispelled by going through a banishment ritual, often one that defies what the narrator previously thought was real or not. Banishment is usually possible by faithful commitment to ritual, but often the victory is Pyrrhic, the banisher losing something in the process or simply transferring the haunting to another character. Here there is no solution, only coping.

  • Mystery for mystery’s sake: A very readerly pleasure that, while willfully ignorant to the real” world, has the potential to reveal the artifice of all fictions. There is always a tidy solution, but this can still disturb with the right tone. Dear reader, don’t be deceived, you have solved nothing. There is also the less troubled entertainment value extracted by the idle rich in the giallo. They take pleasure in others’ woes. They can stop or start anytime they like and usually don’t push past the superficial, that is, unless they are the victim of a loss of innocence.

  • In too deep: For those already close to the acts of violence that kick off the mystery (i.e. the opposite of the loss of innocence or unshakeable image), they don’t have a choice in starting, continuing, stopping unless they extricate themselves from the larger social reality they live in, maybe were born into. Often these types try to run from the mystery, but find themselves dragged back in, not unlike the haunting that follows us supernaturally. They must go through a secular, materialist banishing ritual of their own, either solving the mystery through just means or taking matters into their own hand and enacting personal justices.