3. “In investigations such as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked ‘what has occurred,’ as ‘what has occurred that has never occurred before.’”
In “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Parisian private detective M. Auguste Dupin speaks these words to the narrator as the two men begin to inspect the gruesome crime scene. Dupin here sets out to explain his analytic approach to solving crimes. He accuses the Paris police of being too shortsighted in their investigative strategies by limiting their interest to “what has occurred.” By Dupin’s logic, the police fail to solve the murders in the Rue Morgue because the crimes move beyond the range of both their experience and their imagination. Instead of pooling their imaginative resources, the Paris police get distracted by the crime’s gruesome elements. According to Dupin, while the best police minds can be, at times, ingenious, they often fail to be adequately creative.
Dupin distinguishes himself from the established police order in two ways. First, he approaches the ghastly violence of the scene dispassionately, treating it as a mathematical study. He is thus able to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the scene’s emotional trauma. Second, Dupin expands the methodological reach of crime-solving by relying upon intuition and analysis. Not only does Dupin gather evidence from the crime scene that has previously escaped the notice of the police, like the window nails, but he is also able to adequately account for details that confuse others. For example, he translates the medical examiner’s report of the immense, almost superhuman strength of the murderer into the possibility of a nonhuman having committed the crime. Dupin’s effectiveness lies in his eccentric willingness to move beyond certain standards of rationality and believability. While his explanations piece together the disparate clues from the crime scene in an eminently rational way, he begins with premises that seem irrational—for example, that an animal could have committed the crime. Dupin utilizes such controversial premises because they privilege new modes of analysis—that is, consideration of what “has never occurred before.”