RARA-AVIS: Georgetown Univeristy Summer School

From: Anthony Dauer ( anthony.dauer@verizon.net)
Date: 08 May 2002

Investigating America: Detective Fiction as Social Criticism

Raymond Chandler famously remarked that he wanted to capture "a world gone wrong" in his detective novels. This course explores the implications of that remark by reading twentieth-century detective fiction as a popular and energetic form of social criticism. We will investigate the origins of American hard-boiled detective fiction and discuss the classic work of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Readings: The Maltese Falcon and "The Gutting of Coufignal," Hammett; The Big Sleep, Chandler.

Later we will examine the genre of the 1940s and '50s when hard-boiled detective fiction turned its gaze from the cities to the suburbs in the work of Ross Macdonald and became the political province of fascists like Mike Hammer. We'll focus our discussion on Macdonald's Black Money and Mickey Spillane's I, the Jury.

Historically-speaking, for most of the twentieth century, American hard-boiled detective fiction has been the territory of straight white men. After the 1960s, however, women, people of color, and gays and lesbians began entering into the genre-not in their traditional roles as criminals and deviates, but as the detectives themselves! We'll explore the political and aesthetic consequences of this revolution in hard-boiled detective fiction and discuss Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Hines, Early Autumn by Robert B Parker, "A" is for Alibi by Sue Grafton, and Death Trick by Richard Stevenson.
   Maureen Corrigan, teaches at Georgetown University and is the book critic for the program, "Fresh Air," on National Public Radio. She is a Mystery Page columnist for, The Washington Post and also reviews books and writes essays for The Nation, The New York Times, and Newsday. In 1999, Corrigan won an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Criticism (the highest award bestowed by The Mystery Writers of America) for her work as Associate Editor and Contributor to Mystery & Suspense Writers
(Scribners) a two volume collection of essays on every mystery writer who matters. Corrigan is currently at work on a literary autobiography to be published by Random House.

At Georgetown, Corrigan teaches courses on, among other subjects,
"Detective Fiction & Film Noir" (co-taught with Professor Carol Kent),
"New York Stories The Literature of Urban American in the Twentieth Century," and "Women's Autobiography." She has also served as a Study Leader on a Smithsonian-sponsored "Mystery Tour of Great Britain" and has lectured at the Smithsonian on the tradition of women's detective fiction in a course called, "Sleuthing Spinsters and Dangerous Dames."

8 sessions: Tuesday evenings, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., June 11 through July 30, 2002.

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