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21L.310 Bestsellers: Detective Fiction

Fall 2006

Poster for theatrical adaptation of Sherlock Holmes.Poster for a theatrical adaptation of Sherlock Holmes (1900). (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [reproduction number: LC-USZC2-1459 (color film copy slide)].)

Course Highlights

This course features an extensive list of readings.

Course Description

This course focuses on works that caught the popular imagination in the past or present. It emphasizes texts that are related by genre, theme or style. The books studied in this course vary from semester to semester, and the topic for Fall 2006 is Detective Fictions.



Syllabus

Overview

This course consists of readings in the history of the form of the detective story, from the 19th-century to the present. It involves studies in questions of knowing, from materialist puzzles through metaphysical meditations to elegant whimsy, from murder in an English country village to crowned jewels buried in a footnote.



Attendance

Because we'll do much of the work of this subject through discussions, naturally I'll expect you to be actively here during class and to practice the skills of a good participant: informed attention, preparation, helpful contribution, talking, assimilation, generous and intelligent listening, and mutual respect.



Readings

Do all the readings. We'll have quizzes every week or so. Results of those quizzes account for ca. 25% of the final grade.



Quizzes and Exam

Frequent quizzes; short final exercise.



Grades


ACTIVITIESWEIGHTS
In class work, including seminar skills2/3
Written work, quizzes, and exam1/3





Calendar


Lec #Topics
1High Art, Hermenutics, Detection, and Suspense

Modes: Oedipus and Theseus

Typology: The Hidden Treasure, The Locked Room, the Detective-as-Suspect
2Nature and Hieroglyphics

Ideograms

Cryptography as Process and as Metaphor
3Doubling

Self-Consciousness as Method and Disguise

Materialism, Claustrophobic Homes, Locked Rooms
4Materialism and Identity

The Advantages of Empiricism are the Disadvantages of Empiricism

Why Conan Doyle Killed Off Holmes to Write about Victorian Faeries
5Self and Self-Revelation

Oedipal Resistances

Retrospective Narratives
6The Position of the Observer

Small Town, Country House, Sexual Demimonde, Moving Train
7McGuffins, Clewes, Histories

The Detective as Knight Errant

Film Noir as Style and as Moral Orientation
8Deep Focus

Politics and Representation

Does Rosebud Even Matter?

Kane's Women
9Doubling and the Mind-Body Nexus

Completing Dupin

The Double-Mirror Paradigm of Self-Consciousness

Evidence, Clues, Solution: Elusive Pleasures
10Guilt and Transference

The Pleasure of Looking through Other People's Windows

The Secret in the Marsh: Coming Clean about Secrets
11The Hidden Jewels

Doubling and Narcissism

"The Mystery to a Solution"




Readings

Amazon logo When you click the Amazon logo to the left of any citation and purchase the book (or other media) from Amazon.com, MIT OpenCourseWare will receive up to 10% of this purchase and any other purchases you make during that visit. This will not increase the cost of your purchase. Links provided are to the US Amazon site, but you can also support OCW through Amazon sites in other regions. Learn more.


This section contains the readings for the course, which are also presented by session.



Books

Amazon logo Doyle, Arthur Conan. Six Great Sherlock Holmes Stories. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1992. ISBN: 0486270556.

Amazon logo Nabokov, Vladimir. Pale Fire. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1999. ISBN: 0679723420.

Amazon logo Poe, Edgar Allen. Tales of Terror and Detection. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1995. ISBN: 0486287440.

Amazon logo Cain, James M. The Postman Always Rings Twice. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989. ISBN: 0679723250.

Amazon logo Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989. ISBN: 0679722645.

Amazon logo Christie, Agatha. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. New York, NY: Berkley Publishing, 2004. ISBN: 0425200477.

Amazon logo Weber, K. J. Five Minute Mysteries. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 1989. ISBN: 0894716905.

Amazon logo Sobol, D. J. Two Minute Mysteries. New York, NY: Scholastic, 1991. ISBN: 0590447874.

Amazon logo Browning, Robert. My Last Duchess and Other Poems. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1993. ISBN: 0486277836.

Amazon logo Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1991. ISBN: 0486268772.



Readings by Session


LEC #TopicsREADINGS
1High Art, Hermenutics, Detection, and Suspense

Modes: Oedipus and Theseus

Typology: The Hidden Treasure, The Locked Room, the Detective-as-Suspect
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex.

Film: The Moonstone. Directed by Paddy Russell. 1972.
2Nature and Hieroglyphics

Ideograms

Cryptography as Process and as Metaphor
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Nature." (Read the essay, not the entire work.)

Poe, Edgar Allen. "The Raven." In Tales of Terror and Detection.

Ancillary Readings

Haycraft, Howard. Murder for Pleasure. New York, NY: Appleton-Century Company, 1941.
3Doubling

Self-Consciousness as Method and Disguise

Materialism, Claustrophobic Homes, Locked Rooms
Poe, Edgar Allen. "Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Purloined Letter," "The Raven," and "The Philosophy of Composition." In Tales of Terror and Detection.

Ancillary Readings

Lacan, Jacques. "Seminar on 'The Purloined Letter.'" Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. Yale French Studies 48, French Freud: Structural Studies in Psychoanalysis (1972): 5-9.
4Materialism and Identity

The Advantages of Empiricism are the Disadvantages of Empiricism

Why Conan Doyle Killed Off Holmes to Write about Victorian Faeries
Doyle, Arthur Conan. "A Scandal in Bohemia," "Adventure of the Speckled Band," "Adventure of the Dancing Men," "Five Orange Pips," "The Musgrave Ritual," and "The Final Problem." In Six Great Sherlock Holmes Stories.
5Self and Self-Revelation

Oedipal Resistances

Retrospective Narratives
Browning, Robert. "The Bishop orders His Tomb," "My Last Duchess," "Porphyria's Lover," "Soliloquy in a Spanish Cloister." In My Last Duchess and Other Poems.

Ancillary Readings

Amazon logo Porter, Dennis. "Backward Construction and the Art of Suspense." In Pursuit of Crime. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981. ISBN: 0300027222.
6The Position of the Observer

Small Town, Country House, Sexual Demimonde, Moving Train
Christie, Agatha. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Ancillary Readings

Wilson, Edmund. "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" Originally published in New Yorker, January 20, 1945.

Amazon logo Grossvogel, David. "Agatha Christie: Containment of the Unknown." In Mystery and Its Fictions: From Oedipus to Agatha Christie. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979. ISBN: 0801822017.
7McGuffins, Clewes, Histories

The Detective as Knight Errant

Film Noir as Style and as Moral Orientation
Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon.

Film: The Maltese Falcon. Directed by John Huston. 1941.

Ancillary Readings

Chandler, Raymond. "The Simple Art of Murder." Originally published in Atlantic Monthly, December, 1945.
8Deep Focus

Politics and Representation

Does Rosebud Even Matter?

Kane's Women
Film: Citizen Kane. Directed by Orson Welles. 1941.

Ancillary Readings

Amazon logo Stowe, William. "From Semiotics to Hermeneutics: Modes of Detection in Doyle and Chandler." In Poetics of Murder: Detective Fiction and Literary Theory. Edited by Glenn Most and William Stowe. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace, 1983, pp. 366-84. ISBN: 0156723123.
9Doubling and the Mind-Body Nexus

Completing Dupin

The Double-Mirror Paradigm of Self-Consciousness

Evidence, Clues, Solution: Elusive Pleasures
Amazon logo Borges, Jorge Luis. "The Garden of Forking Paths," "Death and the Compass," and "Ibn Hakkam al-Bokhari, Dead in his Labyrinth." In Collected Fictions. Translated by Andrew Hurley. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1999. ISBN: 0140286802.

Amazon logo ———. "Kafka and His Precursors." In Labyrinths: Selected Short Stories and Other Writings. New York, NY: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1964. ISBN: 0811200124.
10Guilt and Transference

The Pleasure of Looking through Other People's Windows

The Secret in the Marsh: Coming Clean about Secrets
Film: Psycho. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. 1960.

Ancillary Readings

Amazon logo Barthes, Roland. "Delay and the Hermeneutic Sentence." In Poetics of Murder: Detective Fiction and Literary Theory. Edited by Glenn Most and William Stowe. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace, 1983. ISBN: 0156723123. Also published in: Barthes, Roland. "Sarrasine, by Honoré de Balzac." In Appendices of S/Z: An Essay. Translated by Richard Miller. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 1974. ISBN: 0374521670.
11The Hidden Jewels

Doubling and Narcissism

"The Mystery to a Solution"
Nabokov, Vladimir. Pale Fire.




Assignments

Students are required to complete the following assignments during the course.



Theories

At times you choose during the term, write a brief (probably 2-3 page) summary of each of 3 of the "ancillary essays" assigned in relation to major readings. The point of the summary is clarification through repetition; just summarize. Do these exercises at your own pace throughout the term; give them to me in hard-copy.



Short Essays

Occasionally we'll also do 'quick shot' essays. When a class discussion leads to a critical crux, a crossroads, or a need for clarity, we'll collectively set a question near the end of a class period, toward a short (approximately 2 page) essay for the next class.



A Mystery

Near midterm we'll aggregate what we've learned about "classic" forms of detective-fiction. Each student will write a short (approximately 6 page) form in one of the "classic" modes (country-house, materialist-detection, police procedural, etc.). Submit the story's solution to the instructor (final scene, missing information, last page, whatever) and update the rest on-line. We'll work through them in class to see what we can learn about expectations, thematics, stylistics, assumptions, and strategies of the different modes.



A Discovery

Discover a writer or genre we haven't discussed, or haven't discussed much, in class. Read a few examples. Write an essay that lays out the facts, interprets or otherwise explains why the mode or the narrative or the detective matters. You may want to locate the new material in the context of other work(s) we've discussed. (e.g., Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins stories update noir and 'hardboiled' techniques, with an African-American detective/narrator in LA in the late 1940s.)




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