Professor Claire Laville
English 101 8:00 AM
19 October 2014
Clues for the Modern Detective
In “Clues: Morelli, Freud, and Sherlock Holmes,” Carlo Ginzburg explains the transformation of clues throughout history and how people in assorted professions use “clues” differently, yet they are still intertwined. Ginzburg begins his essay with a description of the “’Morelli Method,’” named for Giovanni Morelli’s method for distinguishing paintings from well-constructed copies. The primary characteristic of this method is to focus not on “the most obvious characteristics of the paintings” because “these could most easily be imitated,” but rather, when distinguishing between a real and a fake painting, one should focus on the small and intricate tendencies of the artist (Ginzburg 81). Ginzburg then draws a link between the “Morelli Method,” and Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. What makes Holmes such an outstanding detective is his ability to recognize the almost unnoticeable clues that other more basic detectives simply pass over, which is simply another application of the “Morelli Method.” One particular example of Holmes’s application of the “Morelli Method” is his analysis of the ears in “The Cardboard Box.” In this story, Holmes uses his analysis of the minor details of a couple of ears to help determine the reason for two murders as well as who the murderer is.
It is this type of analysis that you, a 2014 police detective, should implement to improve your success in investigations. It is all too common for modern detectives to focus on the trademark moves of criminals and look over the minutiae. Ginzburg doesn’t just describe this style of detective work in terms of art, he also compares this method to psychoanalysts, doctors, hunters, and writers. Beginning with psychoanalysts, Freud himself said that focusing on what is “’beneath notice’” forms the very basis of psychoanalysis because you can get inside the mind of criminal or even just an ordinary citizen and understand what they are thinking and why they are thinking it (86). This method of understanding the criminal is critical for analyzing a crime scene and determining the motives of a criminal, how the criminal committed the crime, and who the criminal is. Ginzburg then draws a connections between Freud, Doyle, and Morelli through their personal backgrounds in medicine. Ginburg argues that this analysis of the minutiae is similar to how doctors analyze the symptoms of a patient and determine the illness just based on that limited assortment of knowledge. Detectives should use this style of analysis when trying to crack a case, because they can use their knowledge of common crimes and then use the miniscule details of a specific crime to connect the clues to the crime. The next, and possibly the most applicable description in Ginzburg’s piece is his descriptions of hunters. Ginzburg states that,
Hunters learned to reconstruct the appearance and movements of an unseen quarry through its tracks—prints in soft ground, snapped twigs, droppings, snagged hairs or feathers, smells, puddles, threads of saliva. They learned to sniff, to observe, to give meaning and context to the slightest trace. They learned to make complex calculations in an instant, in shadowy wood or treacherous clearing.
Which describes in detail the process of tracking down an animal in any way possible until one can finally strike (88). This method is exactly what a detective in 2014 should use to track down even the most complex criminals. The modern detective must be an expert in what Ginzburg describes as “Reconstruct[ing] the appearance and movements of an unseen quarry” because a detective will only be looking at the aftermath of a crime, so he or she must use any possible clue left behind to find the culprit. Like a hunter, a detective must use the small mistakes a criminal made to track him or her down because the best criminals are never going to leave a massive clue for a detective to find him or her, so the detective must turn minor details into these large details in an effort “to give meaning and context to the slightest trace.” Finally Ginzburg describes the analysis of writing and handwriting in particular as another example of identifying a fake vs. a real piece of literature or art. While this analysis in particular is probably not the most important method for a detective, Ginzburg goes on to describe how this analysis of writing led to the modern methods of tracking criminals. It was this analysis that led to the creating of fingerprint scanners that we use today. It became difficult to determine a criminal simply based on their writing, so the government began to use fingerprints as a method for tracing a crime back to a criminal, which is still in use today.
Although some of these methods are old fashioned and the modern criminal is much smarter and many crimes are often online crimes, or crimes that appear totally untraceable, these methods are more applicable than ever because now that criminals are so much better, the tiny details become even more important than they were before. So I would recommend to you, a 2014 detective, to wholeheartedly study and understand the methods of detection that Ginzburg describes in an effort to improve your success.
Ginzburg, Carlo. “Clues: Morelli, Freud, and Sherlock Holmes.” The Sign of Three: Dupin, Holmes, Pierce. Ed. Umberto Eco, Thomas A. Sebeok. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983. 81-118. Print.