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Marija Dalbello Reading Interests of Adults Detective / Mystery Fiction

Image credit: Victor GAD. Marija Dalbello Reading Interests of Adults Detective / Mystery Fiction. Rutgers School of Communication and Information dalbello@rutgers.edu. Overview _______________________________________ What is detective fiction? Relevant approaches and theories

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Marija Dalbello Reading Interests of Adults Detective / Mystery Fiction

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  1. Image credit: Victor GAD Marija Dalbello Reading Interests of Adults Detective / Mystery Fiction Rutgers School of Communication and Informationdalbello@rutgers.edu

  2. Overview • _______________________________________ • What is detective fiction? • Relevant approaches and theories • Horizons of expectation • Hermeneutic specialization • Transformed play • History and types of detective fiction and detectives • Narrative structure and genre formula • 7-step formula (plot typology) • 4 constitutive elements of detective story • Action of the large scale • Convention and invention at the core of detective story • Conclusion

  3. What is detective fiction? _______________________________________ • Detective fiction is an art of symmetry, it seeks the appearance of logical necessity, like classical tragedy, and like tragedy, it seeks the unity of place - the locked room, the ship, or train in motion. (Barzun, in Dove, 4) • Game of ratiocination • Transformation of crime into game • Fundamentally an intellectual undertaking • As if watching a magic trick which a magician immediately explains puzzle • Genre of hermeneutic specialization • WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

  4. Relevant approaches and theoriesHorizons of expectation • _______________________________________ • Interpretation is pre-structured • Historical relations of text and reader: first reading determines all subsequent readings • Negativity (what is not told in the text) provide opportunities for a reader to question what comes next • Multiple interpretations possible (no regulative context such as in conversation) • Text is not object but product of interpretation • Theories and theorists • Reception theory (W. Iser) • Reader-response (S. Fish)

  5. Relevant approaches and theories Hermeneutic specialization • _______________________________________ • The reader’s need to find out what happens next • Most stories have hermeneutic qualities • In the detective story the reader asks of any information • How it fits in • How it will all come out • Detective fiction is rich in structured blanks which indicate patterns in the text • Blanks are programmed • Suggestions related to later developments • Transformation of signs into clues: Is this fact important?

  6. Relevant approaches and theories Transformed Play • _______________________________________ • Absence of stress - Presence of strain • Similarity of crossword puzzle and detective novel: • Sets tasks or set of related tasks for the reader • Shaped by convention • Neither has goal beyond itself • Gadamerian concept of play transformed into art: • Story becomes work of art • Story is transformed into structure (abstraction) • Detective story refuses to go beyond the bounds of play - it is not about the real world but end in itself • Classic (determined, symmetrical, disciplined reading) • Hard boiled (includes goal-free non-hermeneutic elements)

  7. History and types _______________________________________ • Formal-problem detective story • Problem solved by means of reason • E.A. Poe, C. Doyle • Golden age of mystery (1920s-1940s) • Hard-boiled private eye detective story • Problem solved by means of pursuit and conflict rather than reason • American invention • Time frame: 1940s-1950s • Gothic and romantic suspense involving crime • Time frame: 1960s-1970s

  8. History and types _______________________________________ • Decline of the mystery genre in the 1970s and counter-measure activities in the 1980s of: • Mystery Writers of America • Sisters in Crime (founded in 1985)- to promote gender equality in crime publishing • Revival in the 1980s: • Cozier mysteries placing emphasis on sleuth’s personal relationships • Diversity and popularity of the genre in the 1990s: • Detectives: ethnic, male, female, gay • Genre-blending with romance, SF, historicals • Police procedural more recent transformation: • Detective is an expert, professional, specialist • Rules of the police department in play

  9. Rules of detective genre formula _______________________________________ • These rules determine the genre formula: • Detective-protagonist is prime mover of the action of the narrative • The detection-plot supplies the major theme of the story • Minor themes may exist but detection is always basic • Blanks are the propellants of the text • There is the problem to be solved, presented as insoluble • There is the solution, which is always reached before the story ends

  10. Detective story plot _______________________________________ • 7-step basic plot of all detective fiction (George Dove) • Problem • First solution • Complication • Period of gloom • Dawning light • Solution • Explanation • Hermeneutic interpretation of clues in terms of action of large scale (Knight & McKnight) • Red herring (first puzzle) ~ Focal mystery • with the ironic connection between the two • Test scenario (red herring) ~ Solution (focal mystery)

  11. Convention and invention _______________________________________ • Constitutive conventions define a genre and are essential to it • Detective integral to the story - detective’s story • Centrality of the main plot • Problem difficult to solve • Solution cannot be revealed too early • There must be a satisfying solution • Regulative conventions characterize a genre but are not essential to it • Detective story without a murder is possible • Recurrent stereotypes • Most Likely Suspect, The Death Warrant

  12. Conclusion • _______________________________________ • Convention regulates genres • Limits of genre formula and how genres break out • Creativity and invention at the boundaries integral to interpretive play • Creativity and invention at the boundaries integral to continued relevance

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