teaching this led to the noir poems in the ms. DYSTOPIA (currently entered in the NPS and at SLOPE)

Film Noir / Detective Fiction

Famous detective novels turned into films include Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man (which became a series of films starring William Powell and Myrna Loy), Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and THE LADY IN THE LAKE, and James M. Cain's POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

This genre is also described as “mystery” or “suspense” or “crime fiction”.


“For readers, genres are sets of conventions and expectations: knowing whether we are reading a detective story, or a romance, a lyric poem or a tragedy, we are on the lookout for different things and make assumptions about what will be significant. Reading a detective story, we look for clues in a way we don’t when we are reading a tragedy”.

Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory, Oxford, 1997

[You've just read a (romantic) tragedy -- Romeo & Juliet.]

Detective Novel Conventions

A lone detective, an existentialist outsider, navigates an underworld to solve a crime, not necessarily for the police or the good of society.

The crime is gradually revealed in its full complexity.

The novel has “closure”: the murderer is found, the case is solved, everyone dies or marries and lives happily ever after.

Protagonist, Hero and Antihero

To what extent is a detective in detective fiction a "hero"?

Have you read anything about heroes in myth and fiction? Ex., Joseph Campbell, THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES

The Hero With A Thousand Faces outlines one such plot line. Campbell recounts in his book dozens and dozens of ancient hero myths from unrelated cultures around the world to come up with a common denominator for a plot line, the archetypal hero story.

Campbell showed that the story always began with an Everyman just living his hum-drum life. Suddenly and unexpectedly, either by chance or by choice, Everyman is either pulled out of his ordinary life or chooses to leave his ordinary life to launch into a great adventure, whose ending he cannot know at the beginning.

The adventure, according to Campbell, then goes through several specified stages. The hero will journey into a dark world where he meets various forces or entities which he has to deal with. Along the way he encounters a teacher who gives him the instruction in new skills he will need to learn to successfully achieve his goal. No later than this part of the journey the hero becomes consciously aware of what that very specific goal is.

Striving for his goal, the hero is challenged to his limit, reaching a peak culminating experience, what Campbell calls a "supreme ordeal." The result is that the hero "gains his reward" and is forever changed by the experience. He often gains some new powers and sets off with them. Eventually the hero re-emerges to his society with these new abilities bringing a boon to his society which somehow restores that society.


What is this hero “doing” (on a more metaphorical level than just his actions in the book)? CLUE: Is he finding a pattern? Is he finding the “truth”?

The Crime

“Find the murderer”: How many crimes? What are they?

Who is responsible for solving the crimes? What values are shown to be held by the police? By the detective?

How does the detective relate to the criminals? Does he know them and their world? To the police / the larger society?

"One of film noir's most pervasive motifs is the metaphorical linking of crime with urban alienation, loneliness and paranoia."


These themes are common to a type of philosophy called EXISTENTIALISM.

The Solution

What’s the denouement? - the revelation of what really took place? I.e., the classic part in the library of an Agatha Christie novel where the detective is surrounded by all of the suspects, and then reveals the true criminal.

What are the dangerous situations? What do they reveal?

Revising Conventions

“Noir” is “black” in French: this is a neo-noir film / detective novel with an African-American detective.

In what ways does this character seem a detached outsider from the society depicted in the text?
Other revisionary detective novels have female, gay, or Latino detectives.

In what ways does he/she criticize the values of this society?


Famous works of existentialism:

Jean Paul Sartre: NO EXIT

Albert Camus: THE STRANGER

Precursor: Dostoevsky, especially NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND


Simone de Bouvoir


Existentialism: A definition

A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts.

from dictionary.com

A (mostly) twentieth-century approach that emphasizes the primacy of individual existence over any presumed natural essence for human beings. Although they differ on many details, existentialists generally suppose that the fact of my existence as a human being entails both my unqualified freedom to make of myself whatever I will and the awesome responsibility of employing that freedom appropriately, without being driven by anxiety toward escaping into the inauthenticity or self-deception of any conventional set of rules for behavior, even though the entire project may turn out to be absurd. Prominent existentialists include Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Jaspers, Beauvoir, Sartre, and Camus.

from an online philosophical dictionary

See how much more helpful the more specific dictionary is???


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