But Serially, Folks

Longsufferinggirlfriendoftheblogbeth has this great trick for helping a person suffering a bout of hiccups.


‘What did you have for lunch yesterday?’ she’ll ask.
Then, ‘What about the day before that?’
‘And the day before that?’

It really works. Although, I’m told, it loses efficacy with multiple treatments.

Go on. Try it. You don’t have to be suffering from hiccups.

[Another brilliant anti-hiccup strategy? Signing up for the apoplectic Tiny Letter here.]

How far did you get? I had a cheese and pickle sandwich yesterday. The day before, it was a kind of smörgåsbord of sweet chilli cottage cheese, roast tomato pita chips, mango, and nuts. The day before that… really having to think about this one…Quorn Hot &Spicy Chik’n Bites and Swiss cheese with chilli mayo on toast. And that’s all I got.

What?! Contains buffalo marinade?!

In a previous life, if I wanted to make a point in the negotiation of an amendment to an agreement, I might have to remember not just the outcome reflected in the agreement, but the circumstances of the original negotiation five years earlier — No, what happened was, I’d popped out for a coffee from the machine. When I came back,I’d revisited my position, maybe I’d addressed my low sugar, and we just needed to get the deal done. It wasn’t that your argument had any inherent value, and I sure as hell ain’t accepting it now.

All this, five years later. Sounds ridiculous, right? Sarah Koenig would probably say something like this:

You understand, that’s hard for people to swallow…, you know what I mean?

Mail… kimp?

So, you’ve tried remembering what you had for lunch, like, four days ago. And, maybe you’ve briefly thought about the chances of remembering what you did at work on a Wednesday in, say, the fall of 2009. OK. What were you doing on January 13, 1999, at 3pm? Can you prove you weren’t killing someone? Or even just recount the possible events of the day in such a convincing fashion that a more or less dispassionate third person would be convinced of your innocence?

Maybe we’ve passed peak Serial. The final episode (of the first season) was released on 18 December. Or maybe no-one’s really talking about it in the U.K., outside the American ex-pat community? It’s been showing up on the UK version of The Guardian‘s website, but that’s pretty heavily Transatlantically-tilted.

So, if you’ve been living under a rock — or on a rock made of coal sitting in a pool of oil that still managed to screw up the second half of the twentieth-century — Serial is a “podcast from the creators of This American Life.”

I’m gonna keep posting this till you subscribe to the Tiny Letter, OK?

More or less, Serial is a journalistic investigation into a 1999 Baltimore murder, and whether the man jailed for the crime should have been found guilty. The think piece in The Guardian — if you want to believe the sub fixing the headline — focussed on whether Serial “was just feeding our appetite for stories about dead women.” In a depressing reflection of its current iteration,  by publishing the piece the paper seemed to brush aside the issue of the death of the presumption of innocence (for certain groups) as axiomatic. A truism. A condition of the Realpolitik. I’ve only just finished episode seven: I’m not that hip to what the hipsters are listening to, and had to persuaded by Beth to get around to listening to it. It’s good, but its main function for me, as an entertainment, may be a reminder of how effective the usual This American Life format is, and that I need to listen to that more often.

“Today on This American Life, a couple get lost on their way to the Whitby Goth Festival….”

Thankfully, this blog is just “the scribblings of a bloke who had a stroke.” For this purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that the death of the presumption of innocence (for certain groups) is fecking scandal. That the pornographication of crime is a fecking scandal. That we should be manning the barricades. That X Factor shouldn’t be Christmas No.1 again.

That’s how you do it.

In light of last week’s post, what does it mean that Serial suggests that we’re not really that good at remembering the details of our everyday lives?

…how can we paint our paintings and write our stories — and live our lives in linear, forward-facing directions — without allowing ourselves unfettered access to our past experiences?

Maybe, that the resulting inability to build our personal narratives makes it harder to find — and relate — our truths? Sarah Koenig glancingly hits this truth head on, when she comes to a point of her story that in a strictly linear narrative would require immediate disclosure, but says instead something like, “Remember this; it’s important, but we’ll get to that in episode seven [because it serves the story better].”

Of course, in my creative writing classes, that’s an important question — when best to seed, reveal and unpack information? And how does one convincingly reflect truths in a story? I’ve been told that a character I’d created in a particular story was acting in an unconvincing way. The resulting changes made for a much better story, but I thought her behaviour felt quite true.

A woman living a lie.

‘But that doesn’t matter,’ you might say. ‘A character in a book has nothing to do with truth.’ Which kind of flags up another issue — what is “truth”? That’s a question which has concerned philosophers since Plato. Some have said that what is true is that which corresponds to the “facts”. Others confer the quality of truth upon utterances that correspondence with a system of thought. Or maybe upon an utterance that will not be disproved upon reaching the end of all possible inquiry into the matter. A more modern development focused on the pluralism of truth; that’s where you came in. The nature of what we mean by truth varying by context. Truth in a story, or aesthetic truth, may be different to empirical truth in science, which in turn may be different to truth in ethics, or mathematics.

Or maybe truth isn’t sliceable by category, as much as in a post-modern way in which truth is relative, and we all have our own individual truths. But post-modernism seems to have out of fashion, in philosophy at least. As Clemenceau said, somewhat ahead of his time, they may argue for generations about who started the First World War, ‘but one thing is certain: They will not say that Belgium invaded Germany.’

apoplectic.me: listening to In Our Time so you don’t have to.

In last week’s In Our Time, which serendipitously appeared as I was contemplating this post, Melvyn discussed Truth with a number of academic philosophers. Their early twenty-first-century conclusion seemed to be that truth is not so much a descriptive term, as a value embedded in other values such as integrity, honesty, and curiosity. Whereby we aim to find our what is true, think true thoughts, and that honesty is a virtue, and we aim to express ourselves in an honest way.

That seems to fit in with the idea that it’s good to pay attention to the details of one’s life (and hold on to those details and let them pass into the stream as applicable). Maybe by keeping a diary of a blog or something like that.

Happy holidays.


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9 thoughts on “But Serially, Folks

  1. There we no prompts in the tinyletter this week so I made up my own and answer them here

    1. My keys on my desk
    2. Sidecar or Manhattan but I don’t know any others.
    3. Nope but it seems everyone else did.
    4. Revolutions is my fave. I never knew so much 17th c British history! And the frenchy bit is a great companion to the mantel book
    5. Definitely the second one.

    Merry christmas!

    1. Ha! You could have had a wee Christmas holiday! But those are good prompts:

      1. A cross-stitch.
      2. Martini. Not a vodka martini, and stirred, not shaken. (Not really, though that is nice. A black velvet. Or reverse the proportions, et voila, you’ve got another one I forget the name of.)
      3. I guess I fall between two stools.
      4. Not really my bag. But a friend is doing a kind of historical fiction, and now I’m sorta fascinated by the history of candle-making.
      5. Oh, yeah. Clearly the second one.

  2. I remember pondering over the notion of truth as a teenager and coming to the conclusion: “Truth is subjective.” I also distinctly remember bringing that notion up in an academic discussion about the novel, “Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?”

    But I don’t have a clue anymore what I meant by that or what that damn book was about. Frogs probably.

      1. Just read Ian Wiki’s plot summary of “FrogHosp”. How was your teenage philosophical thought brought to bear, Ron?

        I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts on GoodReads, Beth.

        1. I really don’t remember what the book was about. At all. Nothing beyond the title. That really doesn’t speak to any redeeming qualities so I’ll just agree with Beth that it sucks.

          Also, I’m not really sure how I came to my conclusion about truth or exactly what I meant at the time. But I tend to be very post-structuralist in most of my views…rejecting dichotomies, answering questions by explaining that I can’t answer the question because I don’t accept its framework, poking holes in all the false neat little boxes, so in retrospect that general position makes sense to me.

    1. Maybe that’s a kind of right of passage thing?

      There’s something about extreme positions — or absolutism — in these kind of things that can be appealing, I think. “We can’t pin down one truth? Then there’s no truth/infinite truths.” It’s the kind of path I’ve gone down many areas myself. I keep telling the same story in my lit. crit. class — Joe Strummer and John Peel were big ol’ hippies before they joined the vanguard of British punk. And good for them. Both times.

      Similarly, and more relevantly for this discussion, I was a huge fan of the jurisprudential position of positivism before swinging squarely behind critical legal studies (see apoplexy passim) and becoming entirely disillusioned by the positivists.

      Maybe this is why this idea of Truth as a *value* is so appealing to me. It squares the circle of acknowledging the difficulties in finding the truthiest truthiness while allowing an intellectually honest approach in trying to find a good way to live a life. Like, in a way, how I have to acknowledge that modern thought makes it increasingly difficult to believe in free will, but I still choose to do so as a value-driven, almost aesthetic, component of how to live this life.

  3. Also, I’ve got to send you the photo Christina and I took the other day. I don’t have it, and she’s an early sleeper, so I’ll have to get it from her tomorrow.

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