Course No: 350:603
Index # - 18106
Distribution Requirement: A5
Monday - 9:50 a.m.
Seminar: Twentieth-Century Genre: The Case of the Detective
Detective fiction, probably the single most-read and best-selling category of fiction across the whole of the last century, nonetheless occupies a marginal place in standard literary-historical accounts. The literary history of the twentieth century has instead usually been told as the story of modernism and its aftermath: this story, focusing on exceptional innovations, the dilemmas of literary art, and responses to "modernity," has little to say about developments in commercial genres. But as the modernist framework has come to seem increasingly limited as a way to grasp the changing literary field as a whole, the significance of popular literature emerges as one of the major open problems of literary scholarship.
The aim of this course is to see what twentieth-century literature looks like--and how we are to study it--if we take the proliferating formulas of detective fiction, rather than the singular modernist work, as the paradigm. We consider the difference it makes to address some major literary-historical questions--the high-low divide, the process of formal change, the shifting media ecology, the representation of identity, the possibilities of literary politics, the scope of "world literature," and, yes, the effects of modernity--through this commercial yet intellectualized genre. And, finally, we ask what methods are most adequate to this phenomenon, seeking to complement literary interpretation with other possibilities from book history and the sociology of culture.
This course does not intend to produce graduate-level Baker Street Irregulars but to raise significant twentieth-centuryist questions that can be brought to bear on many writers and many genres. I lay special emphasis on the fact that I can never figure out the culprit in advance and don't really want to anyway. Readings may include: among fiction-writers, Poe, Conan Doyle, Sayers, Chandler, Himes, Grafton, Mankell--together with digitized early-century sources by less celebrated names; among theorists of genre, Todorov, Genette, Fowler, Frow, Bowker and Starr; among modernist scholars, Q.D. Leavis, Huyssen, Esty; among scholars of detection, Ginzburg, Denning, McDonald, Moretti, Jameson, Boltanski, Walton, McCann, Smith. The major assignment is a research paper, for which students are strongly encouraged to seek primary sources beyond those we read together.