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January 24, 2005


matt rossi

It's an interesting assemblage, Marc. Crying of Lot 49 in a week? Ambitious.

David Fiore

that looks awesome Marc!

I hope you'll keep us up to date on the course as it develops!

I've been planning a piece on The Thin Man--which is not nearly as "light" as is generally supposed by people who've only seen the (wonderful--but very different) film--and The Blithedale Romance for a long time and I think it would tie in wonderfully to this class! I wish I was in Tennessee!

(although--just because I'm a whiner--I guess I'll cry a bit about the absence of Dashiell Hammett's actual prose from the list...you've got Huston's (brilliant) film version of the Falcon and Red Harvest + The Glass Key are present in a shadowy way as the tw-inspirations for Miller's Crossing...but there's still no substitute for the books themselves, at least in my--admittedly obsessed--mind!)



Actually, The Maltese Falcon was a last-minute addition as I realized that the device of the Falcon looms too large over Pynchon and Reed and postmodernism in general to not include it - and, sadly, I know I can't count on everybody in the class already having seen the film. Plus it provides at least a slim Hammett antecedent for Miller's Crossing as the Chandler does for The Big Lebowski. The novel would have been nice, but the syllabus was already bursting at the seams and I thought I'd cut the class some slack. Besides, I would feel faintly unsettled all semester long if I got through the class without any Bogart.

Peli Grietzer

Very fine list.
Though it's not Detective Fiction, I would have added Last Year in Marienbad (Obviously I'm not trying to make a practical suggestion, I just think an Ideal sullabus as interesting to discuss). Because it's so damn awesome, but also because I think it seats right there in the juction between what McHale (Who's work I adore) calls Epistemological literture and Ontological literture, and has everything to do with the poetics and metaphysics of organizing information that high-modernistic and post-modernistic detective literture is all about(I'm taking the liberty of assuming McHale would agree that Postmodernism in the Detective Fiction is more about blurring the border between the Epistemological and the Ontological than just being Ontological rather than epistemological).

In fact, I think (If I undertand the rational behind the syllabus correctly) it fits the syllabus as the post-modernistic twin spot for that of Citizen Kane, (which as I assume is here as a an important none-detective Epistemological film), as a none-detective Film that crosses the messes with the border between Episetmology and Ontology.

Also, I think “Death and the Compass” is an absolute essential. It's such a clear, elegant and precise x-ray vision view of the entire underlying thematics of all Detective Fiction. I tend to view it as the story that ended Detective Fiction and such and started Meta-Detective fiction, which I think is what most truely great postmodernistic Detective Fiction truely is.

In a dream world, alongside it would stand Morisson's underrated "The Mystery Play".

On a different note, seeing that "persons attempting to find unaltered reflections of culture in these narratives will be prosecuted", is the Jameson essay there to be put on trial (And hopefully hanged drawn and quartered)?



Actually, the Jameson selection is just a tiny excerpt, the part on pastiche and postmodern nostalgia, which I've found continually useful in my own work. It also seems relevant to the neo-noir movement in Chinatown (which Jameson mentions) and the Coens.

I think Citizen Kane is itself one of the tipping points from the modernist to the postmodern, in the way epistemology ultimately fails, in the film's fragmentation of identity and in Kane's fabrication of reality ("You provide the prose poems, I'll provide the war"). That week is really about the hinge between modernism and postmodernism. I hope I'll be able to talk about this more coherently in, oh, five weeks.

And I still regret not including "Death and the Compass." If I didn't feel the Pynchon week was already full... maybe I'll add it anyway. One of the nice things about finally teaching grad students is that I feel no compunction about recommending outside readings or viewings, and some of them actually seem to appreciate it.

Peli Grietzer

The thing that bothers me about Jameson's approach to the Pastiche is that he regards it as neutral, as if now that we decided that it's not a revolution-style parody meant to bury the "Old" langaude, it's obviously nothing at all but an aimless ..well...reflection.

Stephen Frug

I have to second Peli Grietzer above: Borges is essential to this course. And for Pete's sake: they're grad students, and it's not that long.

Overall, however, a superb course; wish I could sit in! Extra points for going with the graphic novel version of City of Glass (I liked them both, but think the GN is ultimately better), and for including Brian McHale, a personal favorite.

One question: did you consider and reject, or not consider, or wish-you-had-time-but-didn't, Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday? I went through a brief period of reading what MadInkBeard calls "metaphysical detective stories" last year and that one was among the most applauded. I personally didn't like it as much as most people -- but it was good, and I'm curious what you think of it.

(Also fun in this vein, though I certainly would not push for its inclusion, is Georges Perec's La Dispiration, translated by Gilbert Adair under the title A Void.)



The problem isn't the time spent reading the stories, Stephen, it's the time spent discussing them in class, and I couldn't find an ideal place to fit the Borges. The most logical one would be the first week on postmodernism, with Pynchon and McHale, but Borges's style of postmodernism isn't quite the same as Pynchon's (nor is the style of detective story he's dismantling; his deconstruction of the classic rationalist detective will already seem old hat by this point in the semester) and I'm not sure I want to take the time away from either Pynchon or McHale. I've been wavering on this point for weeks, though, and may end up assigning "Death and the Compass" as a purely extracurricular reading anyway.

The further I get into the semester the more readings I think of adding, and the more I wish we weren't compressed into a ludicrous thirteen-meeting schedule. "The Waste Land" would have been helpful - my assumption that graduate students would have already read it has been painfully, painfully disproven. Of course, if the Martin Rowson noir comics adaptation were still in print that would have been a cornerstone of the syllabus from the beginning. And the closer I get to Chinatown the less interested I am in devoting a week to it, but that doesn't mean they won't get something out of it; I'm more interested in using the film as an excuse to teach the associated theoretical readings at this point.

I bought The Man Who Was Thursday years ago and haven't read more than a few pages into it, if that answers your question. I think Conrad fills that early modernist slot quite nicely. And Perec was fun, but La Disparition is one of those books built for scholars to casually reference in their lectures, not to teach.



Basically unrelated to all of this, is there much you can assume grad students have read? I took the Lit GRE but knowing something is from "The Waste Land" doesn't mean you've actually read it. Most of what they want is to be able to tell Pound from Yeats from Eliot and find the subject of a complex sentence (which was frighteningly difficult for the English majors who took it with me) and smatterings of other things. Prepping for and then taking it was pretty much the most fun I had in college, but I took virtually no English courses as an undergrad and seriously doubt I'll ever make it back to the academic world. All of that was a total aside.

I just keep thinking it's tragic that your students haven't already read Borges, but this looks like such a fun and filled class already that I don't know where you'd put it anyway.

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