Readers of this site know I have a fascination with the work of Errol Morris; if you’re not reading his extraordinary multi-part examination on the Crimean War photography of Roger Fenton (Part I, Part II), you’re really missing something special. In his most recent entry, Morris addresses The Pathetic Fallacy. I’ll let him explain it:
The term, coined by John Ruskin in 1856, refers to our propensity to endow inanimate nature with human-like characteristics. Ruskin disapproved — he called it a fallacy, didn’t he? But to navigate in the world – to read the world, so to speak – we need to see the world as having some sort of purpose, some sort of motivation. (It is too frightening otherwise.) Hence, we see intentionality everywhere. The hurricane wants to thwart our plans; the earthquake intends to teach us a lesson.
For a Yankee fan, this hits home hard. As Paul’s post below points out, it seemed like some greater force aligned against the Yankees last night, when a swarm of tiny bugs (animate, I suppose, but certainly lacking in mental intentionality) came out of the night and knocked a cruising Joba Chamberlain off his game. Divine intervention? Or just an unusually hot night, and an entymological accident? I’m not prone to give in to the Pathetic Fallacy. With baseball, there is always the opportunity to do so. The games hinge on a series of small accidents, but we need to find some purpose in these individual plays. And so we study stat sheets incessantly, argue about this detail and that, and then lambast figures for “choking” and celebrate them for being “clutch.”
The two photographs below, like Roger Fenton’s images of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, are revealing and obscuring, at the same time. Appreciate what they represent, but don’t give in to the Fallacy.