"if people are who they say they are"
May 13, 2016 9:10 AM   Subscribe

You had me at Miss Marple.
posted by corb at 9:53 AM on May 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

This is good.
posted by latkes at 10:06 AM on May 13, 2016

Honestly this is a wonderful piece, I just wish he kept writing it forever for me to read more.
posted by corb at 10:08 AM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've been looking for an article like this! Interesting but my initial searches were totally unsuccessful. :)
posted by Gor-ella at 10:09 AM on May 13, 2016

I am whatever you say I am. If I wasn't, then why would I say I am?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:37 AM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

To “find out if people are who they say they are” is to set self-description against what the state sees, what the state reads.

This is what happens when the social structures — family, community, church — that were once key to the establishment of identity fade into insignificance, supplanted by the power of the modern nation-state.

Yes--I have been trying to articulate the difference between the power to name oneself and the power of community, government, religion, bathroom monitors, etc. to name and define an other. Where one thinks that power should or does reside matters. But I can't quite tease it out when self-description is not set against what the state sees, but is trying to convince the state to come into alignment with it; in that case, isn't the state working against the traditional social structures? Or is self-description just another of the old structures in peril? (I was in a store yesterday and overheard a woman loudly use the word "lesbo," which offended me, but clearly she expected people around her not to mind and to give tacit agreement. It occurred to me that she is one of many American voters who would like to see the state back in the business of naming and of shaming, and who are deeply angry at government for reading citizens as not-lesser-than at the same time as they are angry about "government overreach.") Good find, the man of twists and turns. Thanks for posting.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:41 AM on May 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

I yam what I yam and tha's all what I yam.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:49 AM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The power of the state to determine identity is a hell of a lot more important than I ever dared care to understand before attempting gender alignment. This article nails it.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:13 AM on May 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

An excellent essay; here's one paragraph I loved:
She associates this integral, harmonious society in which everyone knows everyone else with her youth — but then, people always do. Raymond Williams begins the bravura second chapter of his great book The Country and the City (1973) by noting that a “few years ago” — perhaps not long after Christie published A Murder Is Announced — he had read a book that made a strong claim: “A way of life that has come down to us from the days of Virgil has suddenly ended.” Suddenly! But then Williams remembered another book that had made almost the same claim — in the early 1930s: the ruin had come with, or soon after, the Great War. But (Williams discovered) people writing around the turn of the twentieth century believed that it had all fallen apart a few decades earlier. And so back we go: the “organic community of Old England” is always just out of sight, just on the other side of that hill. Williams walks the familiar line of argument all the way back to the Middle Ages. It seems almost universal for us to associate stability with our childhood, or a period preceding it, as though the world did not change until we ourselves did, perhaps in adolescence. What the great seventeenth-century mystic Thomas Traherne said of his child’s-eye view of the fields surrounding his home — “The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting” — may be a commonplace experience.
The line "If the state cannot read us [...] do we exist at all?" reminded me of poor Sinyukhaev, wrongly defined as dead in Lieutenant Kijé. And generally relevant is one of my favorite quotes from Ezra Pound (Canto 96/651, the first page of Thrones): "Authar, marvelous reign, no violence and no passports."
posted by languagehat at 11:14 AM on May 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

Miss Marple is becoming cool again.
posted by aeshnid at 11:27 AM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

When did she fall out of favour, anyway? Like corb, you had me at Miss Marple...
posted by infini at 11:32 AM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

I yam what I yam and tha's all what I yam.

She associates this integral, harmonious society in which everyone knows everyone else with her youth — but then, people always do.

McNulty: Snot Boogie. (man shrugs) This kid, whose momma went to the trouble of christening him Omar Isaiah Betts. You know, he forgets his jacket, so his nose starts running, and some asshole, instead of getting him a Kleenex, he calls him Snot. So he's Snot forever. Doesn't seem fair.

Snot Boogie's Friend: Life just be that way, I guess.

Sam Lowry: It's not the machine. There's a mismatch on the personnel code numbers... Tuttle should have had L31.06, debited against his account, not Buttle!


Captain Phasma: FN-2187.

Finn: Not anymore. The name's Finn. And I'm in charge. I'm in charge now, Phasma! I'm in charge!
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:34 AM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

I always preferred Miss Marple to Poirot (less smug, more compassionate), so I was never sure why it was the Poirot books that dominate when you go looking in libraries, or even as adaptions.
posted by tavella at 11:38 AM on May 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:40 AM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

That and Big Mustache Wax.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:53 AM on May 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

First of all, Miss Marple is my everything.

Secondly, I love the way Christie always plays with this theme— the photo in a newspaper where you can see more hat than face, and could you ever really recognize a person thirty years later based on that blurry snapshot? The gender neutral names, or nicknames, that mean you might be expecting a man and so you never consider any of the women in house as suspects. The deceptively tanned skin, that is pale again by dinnertime. The wrong middle initial that matters. The total instability of identity is her specialty more than murder, even though the murder plots are what she’s known for.

People writing into advice columns (in the real world) always say things like “I feel I never really knew him at all”, but that is the subtext of all Christie’s novels. Can you ever really know your most intimate friends, neighbors, lovers? Can you really know what sort of pressure will cause this particular person to snap? Can you ever guess how far a person would go to keep a secret? The constant tension she plays with so well is the idea that every one of us would snuff out another life under the right conditions, to hide, to protect, to remain silent and unseen. It is part of what makes all the prosaic daily details in the novels so fascinating-- they are the village covering for deep, uncanny nightmares.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:45 PM on May 13, 2016 [15 favorites]

I love Miss Marple, but compassionate is not the word. She is Nemesis, remember, the bright sword of justice, the unflinching eye of law. The knitting needles are steel.
posted by Malla at 12:46 PM on May 13, 2016 [14 favorites]

She's compassionate! Just not to murderers. However, she is very kind to non-murdering people of all kinds, including terrible housemaids trying their best, girls in the village who have "gotten in trouble", the Bantrys, peroxided actresses who are trying to pretend they are fancier than they really are, her nephew who thinks he is so edgy and modern but is actually much more easily shocked than his Aunt Jane, small boys with sticky hands, anyone nursing a hopeless romantic attachment, etc.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:08 PM on May 13, 2016 [19 favorites]

Thanks, fiendish! I was trying to figure out how to explain it, but that sums it up well.
posted by tavella at 1:11 PM on May 13, 2016

I should say, the article in general is quite good beyond the Marple metaphor. I was just distracted by the idea of Miss Marple working airport security, asking her little questions that look just like kindly old lady chitchat, instead of revealing to her clear-eyed view the true state of things.
posted by tavella at 1:13 PM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also fiendish, I think it was Marple who said she thought everyone was capable of murder under the right circumstances. If not her, it was in another Christie novel. I love that source of compassion - everyone could kill someone so be nice to those to do (and suspect everyone).

This was an interesting article but I'm not sure Marple was exactly the right example of the phenomenon. She never really seems happy about her small town life (that involves world travel and a famous nephew). Content in her life but aware of its limits. And she basically solves crimes by mapping people she doesn't know on to people she does. It's not about individuals, but types for her.
posted by hydrobatidae at 1:50 PM on May 13, 2016

Miss Marple working airport security

Perfect: She'd be a wonderful assessor, on behalf of the state, of whether the claims to tribal markers are sincere or a disguise.

I think it was Marple who said she thought everyone was capable of murder under the right circumstances.

Yes, she manages that anxiety coolly, in the interest of order, as Nemesis; not so much compassion as comprehension of the ways in which people can go contrary to the proper flow of things, and an interest in righting them for the sake of reinforcing her idea of lawfulness/propriety/the way things ought to be.

I remain disturbed by the idea that there can be no self-formation outside of the state.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:26 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Things were a little different in the Western US.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:37 PM on May 13, 2016

Thank you - this was a great article - I clicked for Miss Marple, and it ended up being more interesting than what I hoped for
posted by motdiem2 at 3:01 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Apparently, Agatha Christie wrote so incredibley much that she developed Marple Tunnel Syndrome.
posted by blueberry at 3:35 PM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Great find. And thanks to Hat, I'm trying to read Passeges from Migne, really not sure if it's the priest or a book or both, so, Vitalis beati.

The aspects of communication interested me. Take A Pocket full of Rye. Just think if Gladys could have just texted Jane. The telephone was extant but it's use was monitored and most deemed it not a private means of communication.

This is the first post my wife schooled me on as we all know, Miss Marple is the greatest "Detective" in modern literature. (IOO)
Yes, I mean, look at all the connections and undertakings it takes Jane to get a person into Krakenthrope Hall. (Sic sp)

The women was amazing as much as her creator.
posted by clavdivs at 7:21 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Apparently, Agatha Christie wrote so incredibley much that she developed Marple Tunnel Syndrome.

Careful with the puns, everyone is capable of murder under the right circumstances.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:12 AM on May 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

She taught me how to think about the things I observe and how to see patterns that underlie our common humanity no matter how odd and different things might look at first glance.
posted by infini at 4:35 AM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

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