This course is applicable to the English major's Literature & Culture of Information specialization.
This course asks, when is the quest for knowledge itself deadly? What is at stake in the interpretation of signifiers? We will survey detective fiction from Sophocles to Pynchon, uncovering some of the victims of the quest for meaning, order, and narrative closure. From the ratiocinators of 19th century detective fiction to the hardboiled gumshoes who implicate themselves in the signifying chain by taking on the wrong case, to postmodern investigators who unravel the incoherence of meaning itself, detective fiction has always been fertile—if deadly—ground for investigating the relationship between language and reality. In detective fiction signifiers take the form of clues, some of which lead toward the solving of the crime, some of which lead nowhere, and some of which lead to madness, chaos, or worse. Because the genre places signs and the act of interpreting them under a magnifying glass, it serves as metafiction par excellence. This was not lost on post-WWII authors with a postmodern bent, and many of them turned to the structure and conventions of detective fiction as the basic template for their avant-garde stories and novels. This course will place special emphasis on this postmodern re-discovery of the genre, with readings by Nabokov's, Borges, Auster, Von Trier, and others. We will also read early works by Poe and Doyle, and spend some time on Chandler and noir. We'll read and view short stories, novels, films, and a graphic novel. All of these will serve as clues in our own investigation of the mechanisms of language, meaning-making, and fiction.