Our topic is knowing: how the desire to solve “mysteries” (whether actual crimes or the “mysteries” of experience) is both a recurrent human need (Oedipus is the first literary detective!) and the grounding of one of the most important and resilient literary genres of the last 200 years. We will read detective stories as a literary genre from its emergence in the nineteenth century (Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Browning, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle) through classic twentieth-century and modernist and noir-ish examples (Agatha Christie, G. K. Chesterton, Raymond Chandler) to postmodern adaptations (Jorge Louis Borges, Patricia Highsmith, and others). Along the way we have some film examples (Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock). The course will also consider formal, ideological and philosophical aspects of detective fiction using essays by structuralist/narratology critics (Barthes, Peter Brooks) and essays by other recent critics including Jacques Lacan and Sally Munt. We’ll pay special attention to the cognitive work of “detection” and to the character of the detective: his or her social position, gender, intelligence, and wit. Speaking of which: we’ll also write our own stories and solve them collectively (if possible).

(Ends Oct 24)