The mystery story

An industrial can-do culture was already tending to give preference to outcomes over process. For instance, a parliamentarian with a good grasp of statistics was more likely to stand out as an up-and-coming candidate for a Ministry than one who pondered complex issues in weighing the input and output of cause and effect.

The market wants product not analyses. It also has a low tolerance for anomalies. So the mystery story emerges as an antidote to analysis avoidance in a popular culture that plays down contextual symbols. This would explain the increasing incidence in TV dramas of bosses who obstruct orderly, inferential detection because they (or the public or political masters) demand results.

Although the method in a detective-story is, superficially, quite simple, it demonstrates the central place of the symbolic space in adaptation of cultures to change. It takes us through processes and symbolic clues that would be skipped if there were no creative fillip of context on a novel or drama, because the very process of creating the story is a complex symbolic process symbolic space .

The symbolic space is analogous to an electrical transformer. It is now my view that symbol-network activity takes place around the enactment of a very basic myth. In the case of a mystery or crime story, we relate to the fundamental human belief in cultural redress where the moral culture has been transgressed. To this end, the dead will speak (get the message through) to the living. Any transformer has two poles. In a symbolic space there will be (as Victor turner proposed 40 years ago) a physical pole of vivid elements of the social imagining of our mortality, like food, blood, soil, and an ideological pole of the cultural morality and ethos. In the mystery story, the physical pole is the blood shed, or the body disintegrated, and the ideological pole is the implicit belief that an injustice can be redressed through correct collective procedures.