How Art Can Help Us Understand Christopher Dorner
Christopher Dorner seemed to think of himself as a character in a novel, though it's hard to tell which one. As in James Ellroy, a cop was ostracized from the famously corrupt LAPD, he claimed, for being incorruptible. Wandering into the paranoiac dystopias of Philip K. Dick's fiction, Dorner believed himself to be in a world gone mad, the lone possessor of the real truth, who must fight to clear his name. Casting himself a righteous avenger, Dorner sought to join the canon descended from Monte Cristo, meting out violence in return for the injustice, as he saw it, done to him. And, at the end, Raymond Chandler was there to greet us with a shootout and a burned-down cabin in Big Bear.
But the last chapter in Dorner's life is not art. The fits of gun violence proliferating across America do not a motif make. And our punditry and moralizing in the wake of these events has precisely the reverse effect of literature. That is, it isolates the actors for dissection and condemnation, rather than filling the rest of us with a broader understanding of the forces at work—and, perhaps, even with empathy.