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The Double, the Labyrinth and the Locked Room

Metaphors of Paradox in Crime Fiction and Film

Ilana Shiloh

Traditional detective fiction celebrates the victory of order and reason over the senseless violence of crime. Yet in spite of its apparent valorization of rationality, the detective genre has been associated from its inception with three paradoxical motifs – the double, the labyrinth and the locked room. Rational thought relies on binary oppositions, such as chaos and order, appearance and reality or truth and falsehood. Paradoxes subvert such customary distinctions, logically proving as true what we experientially know to be false.
The present book explores detective and crime-mystery fiction and film from the perspective of their entrenched metaphors of paradox. This new and intriguing angle yields fresh insights into a genre that has become one of the hallmarks of postmodernism.


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Introduction 1


Introduction The detective story, like John Travolta, has made a comeback with a vengeance. Not that it has ever been unpopular, but in the past it was certainly disreputable. Whereas its early historian, Howard Haycraft, described the genre as a “frankly non-serious entertainment form of literature” (xi-xii), and its devoted practitioner, Dorothy Sayers, admitted that “[i]t does not, and by hypothesis never can, attain the loftiest level of literary achievement” (quoted in Haycraft 13), this is no longer the critical attitude today. For one, the hierarchy of “lower” and “higher” forms of fiction ceased to be tenable; so too have clear-cut distinctions between genres. This postmodern egalitarianism is most strikingly demonstrated by the shift in the status of the crime mystery, which has progressed from the margins of respectability to the heart of the literary canon. Narratives of violence, crime and detection are no longer relegated to the ranks of pulp fiction or B movies. Goddard, Wim Wenders and Robert Altman have scripted and directed thrillers; Nabokov, Robbe Grillet and Borges have written detective stories, or rather, have made deliberate use of the detective story paradigm. But what, exactly, is this paradigm? We would intuitively tend to equate the detective story with the crime mystery, or at least with a crime mystery investigated—and solved—by a sleuth. But there is no critical consensus on this point. There are as many definitions and delineations of the genre as there are literary theoreticians dealing with the subject. In his pioneering...

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