The New Yorker recently posted a review of a new documentary about pop sensation Lady Gaga. A sentence from that review jumped out at me when I read it:
The accidental tells here – when Gaga stops steering her own story or suggests a version that seems to be at odds with the facts – are the most compelling.
Whew. Two unrelated ideas immediately popped into my head. So – hold onto your hat, because we’re going to be traveling in two directions today.
1. I was immediately reminded of a principle from Steven Pinker’s wonderful book The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century:”Good writing takes advantage of a reader’s expectations of where to go next.”
I expected the New Yorker article to provide examples of “accidental tells” – slippages in the image Lady Gaga is trying to present to us – and incidents “at odds with the facts” – contradictory details. But the article didn’t include a single example.
I wish, I wish author Amanda Petrusich had told us what she was thinking! For example, she mentions drug use – Lady Gaga lists all the medications she’s taking, and at one point she’s shown swallowing a pill. But those moments from the document are hardly “accidental” – the producer and director must have known they were there.
Here’s a takeaway for aspiring writers: tell readers where your writing will be taking them – and be sure to give readers what you promised.
2. My other thought was about Jacques Derrida. Derridean deconstruction is all about “accidental tells” – omissions and marginal statements that can point us to useful truths if we’re patient enough to ferret them out.
When I read the Lady Gaga review, I was expecting something truly marginal (a favorite Derridean term) – perhaps something an alert audience member might overhear in a conversation or glimpse in a mirror while watching the documentary.
There’s nothing mystical or mysterious about deconstruction: it’s an everyday activity for us. We’re always reading “between the lines” and listening for gaps in what we’re told. (Parents automatically do this with their teenagers!)
Jesse M. Hellman, a Shaw scholar and friend who’s also a psychiatrist, says that he’s always looking for omissions in what his patients tell him: “You’ve talked about everyone in your family except your older brother. So what do you think is going on there?”
I hope I’ve aroused your curiosity about deconstruction – and given you something to think about! Stay tuned: next month I’m going to post a photo of my parents – and ask you to “deconstruct” it.