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DemCP colloquium - WILL NORMAN (University of Kent): "The Complicities of Black Detective Fiction"

When:We 25-11-2020 17:00 - 18:00


Hardboiled fiction was always about complicity, with its detectives constantly worrying that they had become guilty of the very crimes they had been tasked with investigating. As Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe notes at the end of The Big Sleep (1939), "I was part of the nastiness now." In this talk I will read the history of Black detective fiction through the lens of complicity, studying how writers such as Chester Himes, Walter Mosley and Attica Locke have used the genre's conventions as a means to articulate the complicit subject positions mandated by post-war racial liberalism.

I will show how, for each of these writers, the wave of urban rebellions that swept the United States from Watts in 1965 into the late 1960s represents a crucial moment in their histories of Black complicity. The uprisings and the new discourse of Black radicalism that accompanied them revealed complicity as the suppressed content of racial liberalism, and in doing so made it an illegitimate position, with dramatic implications for the detective novel.

About the speaker

Will Norman is a Reader in American Literature and Culture at the University of Kent. He is the author of Transatlantic Aliens: Modernism, Exile and Culture in Midcentury America (2016) and Nabokov, History and the Texture of Time (2012). He is currently a Leverhulme Research Fellow, working on his project "Complicity in Post-1945 American Literature."

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