The other day I saw the novel The Known World on a book pile in my friend’s apartment. The title intrigued me for a reason unrelated to the content of the novel: what constitutes the known world is an interesting epistemic challenge, in that knowledge is highly fluid. Our world, right now, will soon be history, and soon most of what we know now will be forgotten. However, one can also claim that, over the last ten thousand years, the body of our collective knowledge has increased. But that is a somewhat narrow view, for humanity not only has gained knowledge (for instance about the existence of other galaxies), but we also have replaced old knowledge with new knowledge. One example for this is medicine: even in cases where we still use the same active agents for treatment (think aspirin), our explanations for what ailments to use it for, and how to use it, have changed quite a bit over the millennia.
While entertaining the above line of thought, an idea for a very different novel emerged. This novel would illustrate the historic change of knowledge, and how knowledge changes who we are, how we act, and how “facts” affect us. In a sense, it would resemble the novel Cloud Atlas in one central aspect: that of historical constants. While Cloud Atlas loosely subscribes to the idea of reincarnation, i.e. the continuous rebirth of “persons” and their long path toward “redemption”, my novel would address the fact that some things have not changed over the millennia but how we frame them has. Examples for such constants are death and physical violence. Instead of following a handful of persons throughout their reincarnations, as is the case in Cloud Atlas, my novel would look at the reincarnation of events, and how they are modulated as a result of our changed knowledge. Think, for instance, how murder has been contextualised throughout the millennia.
The change of the operational knowledge operational of a society would change many aspects of murder: how it is justified; how it is carried out; how the murderer tries to escape persecution. The unchanging event “murder” could be investigated in a series of shortish detective stories. In each chapter and respective time period, the same type of murder would take place. Each time, the murder would accomplish the same ultimate goal, for instance the inheritance of wealth, and each time the epistemic base would be different. Let me explain the “epistemic base” with a few examples. In biblical times, the justification for the murder could be a perceived command from the gods. In totalitarian times it could be the “otherness” of the victim: the murdered could be framed as a capitalist traitor in the former Soviet Union, and the victim’s past dealings with Jews could be the trigger in Nazi Germany. So, the ultimate effect of the murder, i.e. enrichment of the murderer, would always be the same, but the justification would change quite a bit. But not only that: say, for instance, that the murderer’s justification (for instance racism) is not shared by the prosecuting authorities and that the murderer will thus face grave consequences. What then? The murderer could, for instance, try to obscure who committed the murder. Obscuring the murder would, among others, rely on the approach of the investigating and prosecuting authorities and their capabilities. For instance, obscuring a murder becomes a different kind of enterprise after the advent of finger-print technology and DNA analysis. How the murder is committed is strongly dependent on the utilised knowledge of the investigating authorities.
In summary, my novel describes a murder that is carried out over and throughout the millenia, but how it is framed, how it is perceived, how it affects everyone involved, would change dramatically.
If you like this idea and want to develop it further please contact me.
If you like this blog post please click the below “like” button.
If you want to stay up to date with my island letters please use WordPress’s “follow” function or the email option provided in the panel to the right.
Also, please share your thoughts in the comment section; letters can and should be sent both ways.