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First-Year Writing Seminar: Mean Streets: The Detective and the City

Semester and Year FA 2014
Course Number FIRST-UG406
Section 001
Instructor Nienke Boer
Days Mon,Wed
Time 3:30 PM - 4:45 PM
Units 4.0
Level U
Foundation Requirement


Open to Gallatin first-year students only.


What would Sherlock Holmes be without London, Philip Marlow without Los Angeles, Jimmy McNulty without Baltimore? From what was arguably the first instance of detective fiction, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the "mean streets" of the city have been crucial to the formation of the genre. The detective moves between different social spaces within the city, with access to both expensive high-rise apartments and crack dens, and the city itself becomes a kind of character in the novel – alternatively helpful, seductive, sullen, and dangerous. Using short stories, novellas, TV shows and films set in London, Baltimore, Johannesburg, Kolkata, New York, Paris, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, and other world cities, we will both examine the art of detective writing and trace the narrative complicity of the detective and urban space. Alongside the fictional texts, writings by practitioners of crime fiction as well as urban and cultural critics will provide us with the theoretical scaffolding for our investigation. One of the authors we'll be reading, Paul Auster, argues that “[t]he detective is the one who looks, who listens, who moves through this morass of objects and events in search of the thought, the idea that will pull all these things together and make sense of them. In effect, the writer and the detective are interchangeable.” In learning about detective fiction, we will thus also be sharpening our own writing skills, working out how to most effectively express that one idea that pulls everything together. Shorter writing assignments during the course of the semester will focus on close reading, with a longer, argumentative essay as the final assignment.



Course Type

First-Year Program: Writing Seminars (FIRST-UG)

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