One of the few interesting things said by my professor for Law and Literature (a class that I anyway had planned on dropping due to scheduling conflicts, which gave me a somewhat inexplicable smug sense of satisfaction) was a quote from some lawyer attacking circumstantial evidence. He claimed that we have learned to see life as a Chekhov play, where every detail must have some significance, while in fact life is chaotic and random and never ties together nicely at the end.
While his claim re: evidence was weak (he made some ridiculous statistical mistakes: "Sure, he beat his wife, but what percentage of husbands who beat their wives end up killing them?" when the proper question is "what percentage of dead wives whose husbands had beaten them were killed by those husbands?" But I digress), the idea itself intrigues. Do we distort our perception of reality to fit into literary conventions?
I know that I tend to describe and perceive reality in terms of short stories or scenes from TV shows. A lot. In the past few days, I have said that the word Focaccia would make a good name for a menacing, black-mustachioed villain, and invented lines for that villain ("Beware the wrath of Focaccia!"). I declared a shabbat guest's description of a rich kids' camp where the director drives around in a souped-up golf cart and throws dollar bills- and one hundred dollar bill- for the children to fight over, usually violently, so ludicrously exaggerated that it was exactly a bad short story that I would read and get annoyed over its clumsy plot devices. I said that I wanted to write a short story about an heir to a chasidic dynasty who is convinced that he is not holy enough to be a rebbe. I listened to my Bioethics prof get annoyed at people trying to find solutions to avoid the moral dilemmas he posed and thought that one could write a short story for each one, trying to eliminate every possible outside factor that would avoid the dilemma itself and that perhaps this was the secret of science fiction. I constantly say "if this were a sitcom, x would happen now," or "if I were writing this short story, it would turn out that y." Not even to mention the degree to which my 'natural' personality, speech, and writing style are consciously and literarily affected.
But I think that maybe- except for the affected thing- it's not entirely a bad thing. Literary works may be unnatural, but thinking in terms of them provides a structure by which we can notice themes, congruities, and incongruities, a sufficiently impersonal perspective that we can see ourselves as others see us, a way of analyzing our lives as we live them. Which, of course, is a very me thing and may not be suited to others.
But the question still remains- does doing this distort our perception of reality or merely channel it? Do we force the story into the events or read it out? Or maybe neither and whatever his face lawyer was simply wrong?