The Metanarrative of Suspicion
A BYPRODUCT OF MODERN SOCIETY IS TO SUSPECT THE STATE
The Metanarrative of Suspicion: How Mistrust Breeds Great Literature
by Sandra Baringer
Mistrust of authority has always existed, I’m sure, but it seems to have blossomed in the twentieth century (and become ubiquitous in the twenty-first century). In this idea-rich interview and in her scholarly book, The Metanarrative of Suspicion: in Late Twentieth Century America, Sandra Baringer discusses the wide range of stories we have invented in which we suspect that the truth is being withheld from us. It is one of the most engaging, resonant and enduring narrative forms of modern era; the detective story, its most prominent subset, is everywhere. Professor Baringer’s book represents an outstanding entry point for the general reader into this field of study.
What connects tales from quaint Sherlock Holmes puzzles to the epically paranoid The Matrix and The X Files to the routine worries of Law and Order is this premise: someone is trying to scam us, and something (usually something important) is not at all what it seems. Narratives of suspicion give us an outlet for our deep doubts about who is really in charge of the hopelessly complex world we live in. They affirm our conviction that if we can just see through the clever masks of the people around us, we’ll see what unfair treatment is being dished out.
The technological potentials of mass surveillance engender vast new vistas of suspicion …
Such a detailed look into this model of storytelling is, I think, extremely timely. Paranoia blooms all around us, and each generation seems to invent its own form. The IPad Age has brought with it new levels of suspicion. Who runs the internet? What government agency is in charge of my email? How do those giant new airplanes fly? Where do chicken nuggets really come from?
A fundamental question is always this: whom do we mistrust? From what quarter here does the narrative of suspicion derive its power? We can begin to appoint several categories: Detectives Standing Against Big Brother or Mysterious Govt. Agency (Enemy of the State, Person of Interest); Discreet British Murder Mystery Detectives (Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, all Agatha Christie books); Private Eye Detectives (The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, Lew Archer, most film noir); Police Detectives; Supernatural Detective Stories (Constantine, Rosemary’s Baby, The Thing), Science Fiction Detective Stories (Blade Runner, Minority Report, Alien), Comic Book Detective Stories (Batman, The Watchmen). The list goes on and on. Detective stories spring up like weeds because we don’t understand the modern world surrounding us.
In the following interview and in her book, Sandra Baringer acts as our guide through this landscape. While she is quick to share credit with a number of other scholars, the general reader will see that she has a clear and deep grasp of this most compelling topic.
- Interview with Sandra Baringer
- Book Review of The Metanarrative of Suspicion: How Mistrust Breeds Great Literature