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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Smoking Gun

The smoking gun is the piece of evidence, the example or anecdote, that is the most convincing. The term comes from police forensics, where the murder weapon that is still smoking serves as the example of the best possible evidence.

I found such a smoking gun once after I had finished the book and it was too late to include. It came in the form of Billy Strayhorn's settings of Lorca's songs from a play.


Thomas said...

"An education consists in 'getting wise' in the rawest and hardest boiled sense of that bit of argot," wrote Ezra Pound in the Guide to Kulchur (p. 52). Malcolm Cowley captured this aspect of his personality very nicely in Exile's Return. "I've found the lowdown on the Elizabethan drama," he quotes Pound saying and adds: "he was always finding the lowdown, the inside story and the simple reason why" (p. 120).

My thinking tends to be driven by the same somewhat "cranky" impulse. I think it's important to stress, however, that the writer of a research paper or dissertation cannot be satisfied, like the detective, with that one knock-down piece of "evidence". Most academic arguments require an accumulation of what would be considered "circumstantial" evidence in legal contexts. Most of our work is suggestive. There are always other suggestions. The smoking gun is not usually among the exhibits.

Jonathan said...

Maybe a better topic would be how to do without the smoking gun, which you usually won't have.