Techniques Fiction: Noir & Contemp.Society (CW, LSE)

Overview: This course will focus on the type of crime fiction that
falls under the fluid categories hard-boiled and roman
its relation to its filmic counterpart, film noir, and its relevance to
contemporary society.

After a brief look at “parlor
mysteries,” the course will trace the formation of the hard-boiled novel,
focusing on progenitors such as Dashiell Hammett, James Cain and Raymond
Chandler, and the films based on their work in order to view, recognize, and
discuss the conventions that mark the genre.

In this course we will investigate to
what extent the literary and filmic production of the noir era (usually framed
by the years 1947 and 1958) was informed and inspired by the political climate
(the formation of the OSS, Cold War hysteria, the Pleasantville façade, etc.) and we will explore the fact that the
genre never really died but was, rather, eclipsed by other forms and, in its
current manifestations may even be timely,
especially in light of the types and degrees of corruption we are currently
witness to.

The course will cover other
trajectories as well. Rather than focusing exclusively on white male authors or
being America-centric, this course will cover the works of authors such as
Natsuo Kirino, a female Japanese writer who has used the hard-boiled formula to
depict the dark side of modern-day Japan, and Italian author Umberto Eco, who has
adapted certain aspects of noir in his murder mystery, The Name of the Rose, set in 14th century Italy.

Among the important literary figures that
have succumbed to the seductiveness of noir are Michael Chabon, Joyce Carol
Oates, Louise Erdrich, Scott Turow, and Thomas Pynchon. We will be examining
some of their works as well.

Goals and Requirements: The goal of
this course is that students will incorporate the zeitgeist of the noir era in
ways that allow them to have a framework through which they can analytically
and creatively view other texts, including the text that is the modern world.
Literature breathes life into history and it is hoped that students can glean a
richer understanding of the recent past and can play detective in their
searches for new, sometimes even jargon-driven insights.

While all students are expected to
respond critically, the course is
offered as a creative writing class as well. It is hoped that creative writing
students, by having the option to write in or parody the hard-boiled mode, will find they have new literary and
informational tools to work with, tools that will inspire some first-rate
fiction—or at least the early drafts of such.

The main requirement will be either a
well-researched critical essay on a subject related to noir or a creative work
of substantial length. Students will be writing weekly or bi-weekly responses,
and these can be either analytical or creative. Each student will also do a
presentation on one of the texts.

Probable and Possible Texts

  • The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir, by Foster Hirsch
  • The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
  • The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James Cain
  • The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon
  • Out, Grotesque, or Real World, by Natsuo Kirino
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith
  • Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane
  • The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco
  • Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon
  • L.A. Confidential, by James Ellroy

Plus, A course reader that includes stories by
Joyce Carol Oates, Scott Turow, Louise Erdrich, Dennis Lehane and others. Films that
will be shown in part, or assigned to be viewed include L.A. Confidential, Chinatown,
The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, The Long Goodbye, Out of the Past, Double
Indemnity, Body Heat, The Talented Mr. Ripley,
and The Good German.