What we've been needing is fable: It's a dangerous way to start a book. For that reason, we'll post it again:
MILLER (page vii): INTRODUCTIONAt the start of her well-received memoir, Chanel Miller—a talented though very young writer—laid out that dangerous plan.
The fact that I spelled subpoena, subpeena may suggest that I am not qualified to tell this story. But all court transcripts are at the world's disposal, all news articles online. This is not the ultimate truth, but it is mine, told to the best of my ability. If you want it through my eyes and ears, to know what it felt like inside my chest, what it's like to hide in the bathroom during trial, this is what I provide. I give what I can, you take what you need.
She was going to tell us how it felt. If we were after something more, we could look up the court transcripts and the press reports for ourselves.
She was going to give what she could. We could take what we need.
As it turned out, what we've been needing is novelized narrative, blending toward fable or fairy tale. We've been needing to sand away relevant facts looking for simplified stories.
We've needed perfect heroes and heroines, along with perfect villains. For various reasons, the "Stanford rape case"—under California law, it involved no rape—became one of the most striking such cases in recent years.
Stating the obvious, a vast complexity entered this case through the drunkenness which was involved. It isn't just that our journalists don't know what happened that night, the victim doesn't know either!
This adds complexity to the case. In service to fabulized fairy tale, that complexity has been disappeared.
Alas! The victim had been blackout drunk for roughly an hour by the time the events in question occurred. She doesn't know what she may have said and done during the course of that hour, but we liberals needed the perfect victim. And so, at upper-end sites like The New Yorker, her story is now told like this:
ST. FELIX (10/11/19): Miller is a gifted storyteller who establishes her authority by stacking details, setting scenes...In 2015, Miller was a recent college graduate, working at a startup and living at home with her parents in the Bay Area. We meet her artful mother, a writer who wins awards for works that she publishes in China; her younger sister, Tiffany, who Miller feels a bracing need to protect; her gentle father, who cooks a meal of broccoli and quinoa for Tiffany, Miller, and Tiffany’s friend Julia, on January 17th, 2015, the night they decided to attend a party at the fraternity Kappa Alpha at Stanford. “I, to this day, believe none of what I did that evening is important, a handful of disposable memories. But these events will be relentlessly raked over, again and again and again,” Miller writes.As noted: Under terms of California law, Miller wasn't a rape victim. But the novel is better this way.
In what feels like slow motion, Miller pieces together what happened to her, first at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, where she awakes to find herself sore, the backs of her hands crusted with blood. Two Swedish grad students had found Turner on top of her by a dumpster at Kappa Alpha; he fled when they yelled at him, but they detained him until police arrived. She was found, according to intake documents, with “no wallet, no I.D.” She fills out paperwork, administrative flotsam that unceremoniously informs of her new identity: “I stopped when I saw the words Rape Victim in bold at the top of the sheet.”
In our view, The New Yorker's Doreen St. Felix "is a gifted storyteller" too, of the type our tribe most enjoys. We say that for this reason:
When the New York Times profiled Miller's forthcoming book, Concepcion de Leon was at least willing to say that Miller "remembers having some drinks" at the frat party in question.
In fact, Miller had had so many drinks in the course of the evening in question that she was blackout drunk by roughly midnight; completely unconscious by roughly 1 AM; and was later assessed to have been slightly more than three times the legal limit.
It is these facts which make the resulting events so complex, so hard to parse as both a moral and legal matter.
That said, we liberals have increasingly come to need our fables neat. And so, the New York Times sanded the drunkenness all the way down. Miller had apparently had some drinks, then had somehow become unconscious, in a way we were left to speculate about.
St. Felix goes that one better. There is no alcohol at all in her account of what happened that night.
Comically, she quotes Miller's defiant definitive statement—“I, to this day, believe none of what I did that evening is important"—without explaining what it is that Miller is refusing to own! In this perfectly managed account, Miller goes to the party and turns up unconscious with "drinks" playing no role at all.
(For Miller's account of "having some drinks," see below.)
For ourselves, we'd march the former president of Stanford away before we'd jail anyone else. Such august figures get very young people massively drunk, then send them off into the night. They then proceed be express vast shock when very bad outcomes (routinely) occur.
We'd march that fellow off first. But the journalism surrounding this event has displayed our liberal world's ongoing need for (intellectual) death by novel.
In fairness, we've never seen a text as overwhelming as Miller's vastly well-received, perhaps solipsistic book. In the vastness of its will to power, it's hard to nail its sprawling text down. It has certainly overwhelmed us.
As a text, the book is spectacularly flawed, right from that first unwise declaration on. In telling us "how it felt," Miller vastly obscures the basic events which occurred, along with the complex logic of these complex events.
Sadly, our journalists have been willing to play along. When we do this, an unusually complicated matter ends up a fairy tale.
The 19-year-old male was very drunk. The 22-year-old woman was drunker. According to the jury's logic, he was supposed to realize that she was way too drunk.
With Victorian logic upon us again, we'd send Stanford's former president off to jail, with reeducation for journalists to follow.
Tomorrow: The dawn of the modern novel
Remembers having some drinks: Here's Miller's account of "having some drinks" at the frat party, from Know My Name's page 4:
We discovered a plastic handle of vodka on the table. I cradled it like I'd discovered water in the desert. Bless me. I poured it into a cup and threw it back straight.This followed champagne and shots of whiskey at home, preceded some later stale beer. Given all the harm which ensued, we'll admit that we find this attitude flippant.
By the time The New Yorker arrived, such matters had been disappeared.