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based on a true story is still a re-telling of a story

poe on fact-adjacencies

We get no closer to anything Real by way of re-telling at a further remove.

Staying relevant does not lead to understanding. It's a running theme is Poe's stories but is stated by Dupin in “the mystery of marie roget.”

Poe's narrative exercise is a re-telling an account of a murder in New York as a murder in Paris. Based on a true story. Fact-adjacent. Poe's footnotes to the tale start with a blurb:

“A young girl, Mary Cecilia Rogers, was murdered in the vicinity of New York; and, although her death occasioned an intense and long-enduring excitement, the mystery attending it had remained unsolved at the period when the present paper was written and published (November, 1842). Herein, under pretence of relating the fate of a Parisian grisette, the author has followed in minute detail, the essential, while merely paralleling the inessential facts of the real murder of Mary Rogers.

This is Poe hawking the significance of the story, following DeFoe's grounding of Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, and Journal of the Plague Year in *reality*: “all argument founded upon the fiction is applicable to the truth: and the investigation of the truth was the object.” If the tale “follows … the essential,” the story carries the same relationship to the truth as the tales it draws from: (and not w/o irony)

Thus all argument founded upon the fiction is applicable to the truth: and the investigation of the truth was the object. The “Mystery of Marie Roget” was composed at a distance from the scene of the atrocity, and with no other means of investigation than the newspapers afforded. Thus much escaped the writer of which he could have availed himself had he been upon the spot, and visited the localities.

And to bring home just how valid fact-adjacent narrative can be: (more irony here)

It may not be improper to record, nevertheless, that the confessions of two persons, (one of them the Madame Deluc of the narrative) made, at different periods, long subsequent to the publication, confirmed, in full, not only the general conclusion, but absolutely all the chief hypothetical details by which that conclusion was attained.

Most of the footnotes define the parallel sites of the New York events and news papers with the Parisian diegesis. Poe is identifying his sources. But that, again, calls into question fact-adjacency of Based on a True Story.

Poe - like DeFoe - is using not a _raw account_ of events - whatever that might be - nor his _first-hand experience of events_ but *narrative accounts* of events. He's re-telling stories, or, more exactly, *creating a new narrative using narratives as diegesis*. That's a dream adjacent to a dream. At two removes.

## Evidence

“It is the mal-practice of the courts to confine evidence and discussion to the bounds of apparent relevancy. Yet experience has shown, and a true philosophy will always show, that a vast, perhaps the larger portion of truth, arises from the seemingly irrelevant. It is through the spirit of this principle, if not precisely through its letter, that modern science has resolved to calculate upon the unforeseen. But perhaps you do not comprehend me. The history of human knowledge has so uninterruptedly shown that to collateral, or incidental, or accidental events we are indebted for the most numerous and most valuable discoveries, that it has at length become necessary, in any prospective view of improvement, to make not only large, but the largest allowances for inventions that shall arise by chance, and quite out of the range of ordinary expectation. It is no longer philosophical to base, upon what has been, a vision of what is to be. Accident is admitted as a portion of the substructure. We make chance a matter of absolute calculation. We subject the unlooked for and unimagined, to the mathematical formulae of the schools”

The stories of Roget's disappearance - the first set of narratives - come from NY tabloids and are assigned by Poe to Parisian equivalents: L'Etoile, Le Soleil, Le Commerciel. The evidence - “the affidavits” that Dupin brings to the table - are from what read like more reputable papers: Le Mercurie, Evening Paper, Morning Paper, Le Diligence. These affidavits deal with ancillary accounts. At first not connected to the accounts of the tabloids: “they not only seemed to me irrelevant, but I could perceive no mode in which any one of them could be brought to bear upon the matter in hand”. It's Dupin's role to connect them. And connect them soundly, navigating rumor and coincidence that is assigned them by *the public.* Dupin has little truck with the accounts of *the public.* too easy to corrupt them. So he composes an alternative narrative to that composed by *the public.* But is it merely *an alternative narrative* of equal quality? What does Dupin's connection of event to narrative have that warrants credibility? He lays low on this point. Dupin proceeds by negating the public narrative, calling its reasoning into question- disconnecting its explanations from it warrants, mainly.

“We thus see the numerous and great obstacles in the way of pieces being 'torn off' through the simple agency of 'thorns;' yet we are required to believe not only that one piece but that many have been so torn. 'And one part,' too, 'was the hem of the frock!' Another piece was 'part of the skirt, not the hem,'—that is to say, was torn completely out through the agency of thorns, from the uncaged interior of the dress! These, I say, are things which one may well be pardoned for disbelieving; yet, taken collectedly, they form, perhaps, less of reasonable ground for suspicion, than the one startling circumstance of the articles' having been left in this thicket at all, by any murderers who had enough precaution to think of removing the corpse.


“Let us reflect now upon 'the traces of a struggle;' and let me ask what these traces have been supposed to demonstrate. A gang. But do they not rather demonstrate the absence of a gang? What struggle could have taken place—what struggle so violent and so enduring as to have left its 'traces' in all directions—between a weak and defenceless girl and the gang of ruffians imagined? The silent grasp of a few rough arms and all would have been over.”

Or this, based on human nature:

“I shall add but one to the arguments against a gang; but this one has, to my own understanding at least, a weight altogether irresistible. Under the circumstances of large reward offered, and full pardon to any King's evidence, it is not to be imagined, for a moment, that some member of a gang of low ruffians, or of any body of men, would not long ago have betrayed his accomplices. Each one of a gang so placed, is not so much greedy of reward, or anxious for escape, as fearful of betrayal. He betrays eagerly and early that he may not himself be betrayed. That the secret has not been divulged, is the very best of proof that it is, in fact, a secret. The horrors of this dark deed are known only to one, or two, living human beings, and to God”

Dupin also leaves the case open, proposing a way to test - but not falsify - his hypothesis. Find the rudderless boat and that will confirm what we know. Failing to find the boat leaves the case open. This is a weakness: a sounder test would falsify the hypothesis.

But this is the way of construction by narrative: it can’t be falsified.

From The Works of Edgar Allan Poe - Volume 1 Edgar Allan Poe




based_on_a_true_story_-_poe_on_fact-adjacencies.txt · Last modified: 2021/02/16 23:38 by morgan