Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Just a thought …

Perhaps the reason mystery novels are so popular has something to do with how nearly  the essential notes of a mystery novel mirror those of the predicament of being. Something is going on, that’s evident, but what exactly, and how and why … none of that is evident at all. There seem to be some clues, but where they lead, how they fit together, and what others are lying about is hard to say.
There is a logic at work here, but it is the logic of collage — how one piece goes with another and what others fit the pattern. The logic of collage, of course, is the logic of intuition — using the word in its Aristotelian sense of an immediate grasp of something. It is not, in other words, the logic of ratiocination, though that may play a part from time to time, and in the end as well.
The detective’s mastery derives from his superior intuition, presumably a result of both talent and training. He is the one east surprised when he has discerned what the pieces are and how they fit together to revel what has actually happened and who is responsible.
That “who” is key: Mystery novels have little to do with causation and everything to do with motive. Therein lies their metaphysical dimension and the basis of their appeal. We do not experience our lives in terms of causation (except when we’re looking for excuses). Our sense of being is that something is obviously going on, we’re not sure what exactly … and that there’s somebody behind it.


  1. I found this article about a poem by Auden fascinating: http://commonwealmagazine.org/verdicts/?p=878

  2. I think it was Auden also who said that an excellent setting for a murder mystery is a college campus. And if the murderer turns out to be a professor you know that he is not only a bad man but also a bad teacher.

  3. The third in J.V. Cunningham's "A Century of Epigrams" is "With a Detective Story", which is too long for me to type out just now...

  4. I read somewhere that a mystery story enables the reader to actively participate in the finding, and the detective's progress parallels that active engagement.