Friday, 27 April 2007

Observation vs reasoning

I visited my local police station this morning to report the theft of a credit card. On the wall behind the officer who took my statement was a handwritten aphorism, which went more or less like this: A lot of reasoning and little observation = mistaken solution. A lot of observation and little reasoning = correct solution. It didn't occur to me at the time, but later I was thinking about a story I'm revising and what the revision seems to entail is the removal of reasoning in favour of observation. The maxim is similar to, but not the same as, the 'show, don't tell' stricture that teach yourself creative writing material is so keen on. It's also true, of course, that 98% of crimes remain unsolved, so maybe a little reasoning is in order.

And then tonight I watched, for the first time, Closely Observed Trains. The film itself is a model of close observation, but its structure, and sense, is everything that isn't seen; everything that becomes available with reasoning. Which would seem to contradict the police officer's aphorism. The DVD included the original American trailer, which reduced the film to a saucy romp, a sort of 60s-made American Pie set in wartime Czechoslovakia. The trailer had watched the film but seen nothing, or thought that the kind of nothing it had found in the film would make it more palatable to a foreign audience.

In my statement, the police officer gilded the lily (over-larded the pudding?) by adding the phrase "with immense stupor" to the sentence in which I discover my card has been used by someone else. It's a nice idea, though
not even faintly true. But now, of course, it is. It's in my statement.

My credit card was stolen because I didn't keep my eyes open.

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