Event Title

Unmasking the Other: Political and Racial Others in Selected Transatlantic Fiction, 1922-1935

Location

Panel 15: Kearney 312

Start Date

27-10-2012 10:15 AM

End Date

27-10-2012 11:45 AM

Description

The core idea behind detective fiction is to have the audience indentify with the sleuth. In this regard, the sleuth(s) must represent the feelings, anxieties, and morals of the reading audience. During the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction, British and American detectives try to uncover racial and political threats in order to find some semblance of order and comfort in the pessimistic post-World War I world. Principally, the British school of interwar detective fiction relies heavily on the notions of the political Other. In the traditional British tale, a gentleman amateur comes from his ivory tower (of sorts) into a chaotic world which he then puts to rights. Specifically speaking, the “cozy” British mystery of the 1920s and 1930s is concerned with threats to the British status quo, and these are typically political threats stemming from foreign nationals such as Wilhemite Germans, mafia-infested Italians, and Soviet Russians. In such diverse Anglophonic texts as the late Sherlock Holmes canon, Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary, and Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder, the political Other represents a foreign and a radical threat to the shaky British order of the interwar years. In the British tradition, the detective is a stabilizing agent.

In the American “hard-boiled” tradition, the detective unveils the lies underlying the American myths of morality, political fairness, and cultural utopianism. Dashiell Hammett’s “Dead Yellow Women” presents an odyssey through the criminal maze that is San Francisco’s Chinatown. The Continental Op, the id of the white working class of California, navigates the cultural barriers of race in urban American only to be left utterly confounded and displaced. Similarly, Chandler’s Sam “Spanish” Delaguerra in “Spanish Blood” asserts that his upstanding and pure Spanish blood is a mechanism that allows for his honesty in a corrupt world of Filipino stick-up men, junkies, and Irish American political bosses. In both Hammett and Chandler, the issues of race and ethnic identity complicate the already hectic world of crime detection in the urban jungle, and ultimately these themes provide a counter-myth to the ideal of the Sunshine State.

In short, my paper will examine the detective trope of using the detective as a mechanism for the unveiling of the threatening Other. In the British school, the Other is usually political other who seeks to destabilize the British legal, political, and cultural traditions. In the American school, the Other is a racial minority or outsider that stands as a symbol for the greater corruption of the American city. In doing this, my paper seeks to highlight the lie that detective fiction is a diversionary pursuit rather than a serious attempt to grapple with the thorny issues of race, politics, and social class.

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Oct 27th, 10:15 AM Oct 27th, 11:45 AM

Unmasking the Other: Political and Racial Others in Selected Transatlantic Fiction, 1922-1935

Panel 15: Kearney 312

The core idea behind detective fiction is to have the audience indentify with the sleuth. In this regard, the sleuth(s) must represent the feelings, anxieties, and morals of the reading audience. During the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction, British and American detectives try to uncover racial and political threats in order to find some semblance of order and comfort in the pessimistic post-World War I world. Principally, the British school of interwar detective fiction relies heavily on the notions of the political Other. In the traditional British tale, a gentleman amateur comes from his ivory tower (of sorts) into a chaotic world which he then puts to rights. Specifically speaking, the “cozy” British mystery of the 1920s and 1930s is concerned with threats to the British status quo, and these are typically political threats stemming from foreign nationals such as Wilhemite Germans, mafia-infested Italians, and Soviet Russians. In such diverse Anglophonic texts as the late Sherlock Holmes canon, Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary, and Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder, the political Other represents a foreign and a radical threat to the shaky British order of the interwar years. In the British tradition, the detective is a stabilizing agent.

In the American “hard-boiled” tradition, the detective unveils the lies underlying the American myths of morality, political fairness, and cultural utopianism. Dashiell Hammett’s “Dead Yellow Women” presents an odyssey through the criminal maze that is San Francisco’s Chinatown. The Continental Op, the id of the white working class of California, navigates the cultural barriers of race in urban American only to be left utterly confounded and displaced. Similarly, Chandler’s Sam “Spanish” Delaguerra in “Spanish Blood” asserts that his upstanding and pure Spanish blood is a mechanism that allows for his honesty in a corrupt world of Filipino stick-up men, junkies, and Irish American political bosses. In both Hammett and Chandler, the issues of race and ethnic identity complicate the already hectic world of crime detection in the urban jungle, and ultimately these themes provide a counter-myth to the ideal of the Sunshine State.

In short, my paper will examine the detective trope of using the detective as a mechanism for the unveiling of the threatening Other. In the British school, the Other is usually political other who seeks to destabilize the British legal, political, and cultural traditions. In the American school, the Other is a racial minority or outsider that stands as a symbol for the greater corruption of the American city. In doing this, my paper seeks to highlight the lie that detective fiction is a diversionary pursuit rather than a serious attempt to grapple with the thorny issues of race, politics, and social class.