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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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Epilogue 167

Extract

Epilogue This is a descriptive, rather than a theoretical book. It describes the treatment of three paradoxical motifs—the double, the labyrinth and the locked room— in contemporary crime fiction and film. These motifs were introduced by Edgar Allan Poe in his foundational trio of detective stories and have in time become hallowed conventions of the genre. But rather than substantiating Poe’s celebration of deductive reasoning, the three elements discussed in the present study have imploded the genre’s overt rationality ever since its inception. Although classic detective fiction is characterized by other formulaic conventions, the double, the labyrinth and the locked room share certain formal properties that potentially deconstruct the genre’s ontological and epistemological assumptions. These properties, such as repetition, enclosure, circuitousness or recursion, lend themselves to metaphorical interpretations that are evoked by contemporary fiction and cinema to signify the defeat of reason rather than its unconditional victory. These properties also symbolically suggest the detective story’s inherent self-reflexivity, its propensity to foreground its narrativity and in that become the paradigm of all narrative. The present study traces the permutations of doubles, labyrinths and locked rooms in the fiction of Hammett, Highsmith, Borges, Danielewski and Auster and in the films of the Coen Brothers and of Christopher Nolan. The Prologue presents a close reading of Poe’s tales, in which we see that in the classic detective stories, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter,” as well as in their notable precursors, “William Wilson” and “The Man of the...

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