February 26: deciphering

Deciphering is what we do our entire lives. In disputes we try and see which version of reality we agree with; we test our own versions of events in our heads all day long and wonder how we have behaved or how we have been seen to have behaved. We set up versions of reality against each other using weights ; the judgement of a fifteen-year-old might elicit some scepticism as he or she might not have the authority that experience can lend or maybe the judgement of an older person is too tainted by dullness, consevatism or the protection of personal or material assets. At every moment we are assessing the value of another’s account, based on our understanding of their personality, their vanity, what they have to lose and what they have to gain.

I wonder whether the study of narrative helps us in these judgements. Cheap literature probably not, as the values of the characters are too clearly laid out for a simple read. Complex narratives more so perhaps. Here characters are not so clearly sign-posted. Sometimes the writer cannot understand him or her or does not think the character through to the end. You cannot think the characters through to the end because they are limitless, just like the real people in our non-fictional world. It seems unlikely that people who have more experience in the deciphering of fictional lives would be more perceptive in this non-fictional world. Or might they be more sensitive to the non-binary, nuanced and mysterious motivations behind behaviour. Intellectuals used to think that an understanding and appreciation of the high arts lent the connaisseur a moral quality. This opinion held sway till we realised there were army officers who tortured Jews by day and listened to Mozart after 6 pm. You wonder what the qualities were that they found in the Mozart.



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