ENGL 440 A: Special Studies In Literature

Hardboiled, Noir and the Politics of Style

Meeting Time: 
TTh 2:30pm - 4:20pm
LOW 111
Eva Cherniavsky
Eva Cherniavsky

Syllabus Description:


Dennis Weaver, Touch of Evil

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Schedule of Readings

October 1: introductions
Read: Raymond Chandler, “ The Simple Art of Murder” and Michael Denning, excerpts from The Cultural Front (pages 53-64; 83-104; 230-1; 254-258)


October 6: Read: Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep, chapters 1-22
October 8: Read: The Big Sleep (all) and Mike Davis, excerpt from “Sunshine or Noir” (17-24; 36-46)


October 13: In-class screening: Double Indemnity (Allen Auditorium)
October 15: Read: Janey Place, “Women in Film Noir,” Sylvia Harvey, “Women’s Place: The Absent Family of Film Noir,” Andreas Huyssen excerpt from “Mass Culture as Woman” (42-52) and James Naremore, excerpt from “Modernism and Blood Melodrama” (81-95)


October 20: Read: Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproduction”
October 22: Read: Dorothy Hughes, In a Lonely Place, chapters 1-3


October 27: Read: In a Lonely Place (all)
October 29: View: The Hitchhiker
Read: Elizabeth Cowie, excerpt from “Film Noir and Women” (121-136)


November 3: In –class screening: Touch of Evil
November 5: Read: Michael Denning, “The Aesthetics of Anti-Fascism” and Stephen Heath, “Film, System, Narrative”


November 10: Read: Chester Himes, A Rage in Harlem chapters 1-16
November 12: Read: A Rage in Harlem (all) and Manthia Diawara, “Noir by Noirs”


November 17: In-class screening: Fargo (Allen Auditorium)
November 19: Fargo (continued)


November 24: Read: Sarah Paretsky, Indemnity Only, chapters 1-10
November 26: Thanksgiving Holiday – no class


December 1: Read: Indemnity Only (all)
December 3 Read: Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress, chapters 1-11


December 8: Devil in a Blue Dress (all)
December 10: conclusions


Additional Details:

English 440
Fall 2015

Topic: Hardboiled, Noir and the Politics of Style

This course will address two cross-pollinated products of literary and visual culture – the hardboiled detective novel and film noir – that have proven both remarkably durable, persisting from the early 1930s to the present moment, and remarkably hard to specify. Rather than comprise a genre, hardboiled and noir seem rather, and more elusively, to describe a look, an attitude, a feel – a visual and narrative style – that traverses any number of established genres, including ‘true crime’ fiction, police procedurals, melodramas, and thrillers. The hardboiled/noir ‘style’ appears mobile and plastic in other ways, as well, spanning, as it does, the divide between elite modernisms and mass culture, and a political spectrum marked at the one end by something like the Red Scare thematics of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and at the other by what Mike Davis describes as the quasi-Marxist sensibilities of Hollywood noir directors such as Billy Wilder and Orson Welles.

This class will explore the complex articulations of narrative style and cultural politics in hardboiled and noir. If ‘style’ is inevitably a market phenomenon (a way of branding and selling cultural products), when and for whom might it function critically? To what extent does the dissemination of a style create possibilities for appropriating and repurposing it – for example, possibilities for women writers to repurpose the expressly misogynist conventions of classic hardboiled fiction? Conversely, to what extent is there a politics intrinsic to the style – an orientation to sexual and racial difference, for instance -- that is ‘written in’ to the touchstone figures, settings, and organizing motifs of these narrative modes?

Course materials will include both fiction and film: we will read Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep, Dorothy Hughes, In a Lonely Place, Chester Himes, A Rage in Harlem, Sara Paretsky, Indemnity Only, and Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress and view Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944), The Hitchhiker (Ida Lupino, 1953), Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1959), and Fargo (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1996). We will also take up a selection of critical materials on modernism and popular culture (Andreas Huyssen, Walter Benjamin) , the cultural and material contexts of hardboiled and noir (Mike Davis, Michael Denning, James Naremore), and its cultural politics (Sylvia Harvey, Janey Place, Elizabeth Cowie, Stephen Heath, Manthia Diawara). Course expectations include regular and engaged participation, a group presentation, a paper proposal with annotated bibliography, and a final research paper.

Catalog Description: 
Themes and topics offering special approaches to literature.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Other Requirements Met: 
Last updated: 
March 16, 2016 - 12:39pm