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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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Prologue The Deconstruction of Reason in Poe’s Tales of Ratiocination 11


Prologue The Deconstruction of Reason in Poe’s Tales of Ratiocination Most literary genres do not have a single commonly acknowledged progenitor. The detective story does. By general critical consensus, detective fiction begins with Edgar Allan Poe. The three tales he wrote in mid 19th century, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1842) and “The Purloined Letter” (1844) established the paradigm of the analytic detective story. This paradigm consists of a streamlined narrative that moves from mystery to solution and includes elements that have in time become the traditional conventions of the genre, such as: The transcendent and eccentric detective; the admiring and slightly stupid foil; the well-intentioned blundering and unimaginativeness of the official guardians of the law; the locked room convention; the pointing finger of unjust suspicion; the solution by surprise; deduction by putting one’ self in another’s position […]; concealment by means of the ultra-obvious; the staged ruse to force the culprit’s hand; even the expansive and condescending explanation when the chase is done. (Haycraft 12) What unifies these formal and narrative elements is the analytical story’s philosophical underpinning, the belief that, to quote Holquist’s apt formulation, “the mind, given enough time, can understand everything” (Holquist 157). The implications of this belief are ontological as well as epistemological. The world can be explained by reason because it is based on reason. Underneath the maze of false clues, misleading evidence and lying witnesses is a chain of events governed by a logical pattern of cause...

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