A Companion Piece to Episode 3: Detected
Written by Derek Jones
At many points in life, I sit back and gaze at the stars. Sadly, I've been a city guy for the past 15 years, and star gazing often doesn't work well. The glow of the city is just bright enough to dim out the diamonds of the night sky. However, when I'm under a clear night sky and I can witness the awesome beauty of our galaxy, I'm overwhelmed about the sheer size and scope of existence. Sometimes (but not always), I get an extreme sense of anxiety because the night sky reminds me that Earth is simply one small rock of billions floating around stars. The universe often feels like a chaotic place, where natural forces determine the destiny of us all. The feeling of dread when one contemplates their own cosmic insignificance is fairly universal. It fuels and drives us all. Some go mad under the weight of it, some are driven to unusual and dogmatic doctrines, while others choose to stifle this dread in blissful ignorance. I think this anxiety of awareness, the dread of knowing that I am just a minuscule part of a cosmic play that may or may not have meaning, drives me to stories. Stories can offer escape, but more often offer something more valuable: psychological sublimation. I can sublimate this dread into a story which has a definitive temporal framework. Stories begin, have middles, and end. Within the temporal framework, there is always a high degree of control. Regardless of the medium, the story is always within tight control of the story's author/director. In this way, the end of a story is always a foregone conclusion, a representation of a type of imaginary determinism one where the audience scribes a character's illusory freewill.
This gets me to Sherlock Holmes and the narrative of the detective. To understand Holmes, we must first ask, what is a detective? A detective, as defined by the dictionary is: "a member of the police force or private investigator whose function is to obtain information and evidence, as of offenses against the law" (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/detective). To put it differently, a detective brings justice to right injustice by collecting verifiable data gathered scientifically (evidence) which will stand up under intense scrutiny (a court of law). A detective brings order to chaos. When a crime is committed, the victim has fallen to the chaotic elements of human society. No one chooses to be victimized by crime, and often times the victim is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Out of the chaotic event, the detective analyzes the situation, looks for evidence in precise and exact details, and brings order to the situation. Based off of the evidence, a determination is made about who perpetrated the crime and an arrest is made. If the detective did his/her job correctly, the evidence will lead to the criminal's punishment in the form of a conviction in court. Out of the chaos of the crime, comes order. Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating character, one whose brilliance has entertained generations of people. But I would surmise that it is his ability to bring order to chaos that gives him such a longstanding and widespread appeal. The interpretation of Holmes is very diverse, but what prevails in every iteration is his ability to see clues where others cannot. He effortlessly sees order where everyone else sees chaos, and it has fascinated audiences since the 19th century.
So remember the next time you feel small, it's because you are. But that's ok. Chaos is so intermingled with order that even a drug addicted genius can become the greatest detective in popular culture. I don't pretend to have any answers to the great questions that accompany humans on our journey through this thing called existence. But chaos is manageable, and from the utterly unpredictable there comes predictable, just as in the eye of a hurricane. Perhaps detective stories live in that calm, reassuring all of us that knowledge can bring justice to the unjust.