Spatial Representation in Three Detective Fiction Subgenres

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Department of English, NTNU


In this study I examine a limited aspect of spatial representation in Golden Age, hard-boiled and postmodern detective fiction. I situate these representations within a theory of architectural enclosure, Tschumi's pyramid/ labyrinth distinction, then employ concepts derived from Gestalt theory as pointing up an ideological tendency in the Golden Age floor plans and diagrams by which crime is contained and spaces are normalized. John Dickson Carr's The Problem of the Wire Cage (1939) serves as a test case. The subsequent sections offer spatial analyses of Dashiell Hammett's "The Whosis Kid" (1925) and "Dead Yellow Women" (1925) and Paul Auster's City of Glass (1987). Hammett's stories illustrate the breakdown of visual mastery in disorienting spaces whose textual representation parallels the Op's own limited knowledge. Auster's diagrams appear to offer a synthesis of prior positions: he incorporates plans which seem to promise meaning but which ultimately fail to establish certainty. I argue, however, that Auster's plans are most effectively read in their specific socio-historical and political context and that the performantive loss of referential certainty in his potagonist reflects a form of critique that differs from earlier gernres' use of these figures.