Spring 2024

Bestsellers: Detective Fiction

Prereq: none
Units: 2-0-4 Can be repeated for credit; first half of term

(Second Half Term: Begins April 1) In this course we will examine detective fictions as both a mode of thinking (we ask questions about our lives) and as a literary genre. As a mode of thinking it’s been around for millennia  (we consider Sophocles’ “Oedipus” and the T’ang Chinese Judge Dee); as a literary genre it emerges in the nineteenth century (Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle), develops through classic twentieth-century and modernist and noir writers (Agatha Christie, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Raymond Chandler) and booms through postmodern uses of the genre’s structures (Jorge Louis Borges, Patricia Highsmith, Walter Mosley). We’ll end with some film examples (Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock). We’ll also consider some formal, ideological and philosophical aspects of detective fiction, using essays by structuralist/narratology critics (Roland Barthes, Peter Brooks) and essays by other recent critics (Jaques Lacan, Sally Munt). We’ll pay special attention to the cognitive work of “detection” and to the character of the detective, in social position, gender, class, race, intelligence, language, and wit.  [Pre-1900]