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Postmodern Mystery

The Eight Memes of the Postmodern Mystery
By Ted Gioia

Postmodern Mystery

Postmodern Mystery is a web site What do postmodern writers have against the mystery devoted to experimental, unconventional novel? For reasons that perhaps only a Lacan or Derrida and postmodern approaches to stories could deconstruct, they have turned to it again and again, of mystery and suspense wreaking havoc with its rules and formulas, and transforming the conventional whodunit into a playground for Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at the most experimental tendencies and avant-garde techniques. The culprits: Thomas Pynchon, Vladimir Nabokov, Paul Auster, Jorge Luis Borges, Alain RobbeGrillet and a host of other literary hit men and hit women.

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The Postmodern Mystery: 50 Essential Works Selected Quotes on Detective Fiction In the process, they have created an entirely new genre: the postmodern mystery. These books possess a paradoxical beauty, both celebrating and undermining the precepts of crime fiction. To some degree, these are the emblematic books of our time. They recognize our desire for the certainty and affirmation of order epitomized by the traditional mystery story, yet they also play on our desire to reject formulas and move beyond the constraints of the past. We want to savor this reassuring heritage, with its neat and tidy to solutions to all problems, even while enjoying the fun of toppling it over and watching the pieces fall where they may. Even so, fans of conventional whodunits may do well to steer clear of these books, which will thwart their expectations, mess with their minds, and possibly undermine their faith in the triumph of law and order.

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Postmodern Mystery

Put simply, these books are not for the faint of heart. But how do you know which works of fiction fall under the rubric of postmodern mystery? Like any detective, the reader needs to gather evidence and look for clues. Here is a checklist: my handy guide to the eight memes of the postmodern mystery. Be on the lookout for these tell-tale signs, and if you encounter any of them in a book or story, take all necessary precautions. 1. The Author Appears as a Character...or Even a Suspect: The worst most writers have to fear is a bad review or poor sales. But these authors might get a conviction and the death penalty. That’s the price they pay for showing up as characters in their own novels without a good alibi. Examples:
Cameron McCabe: The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor Norman Holland: Death in a Delphi Seminar Miguel Syjuco: Ilustrado

Conceptual Fiction Martin Amis Great London Books Guide Fields The New Canon Paul Auster Ted Gioia's homepage Leviathan Ted Gioia (on Twitter)
The New York Trilogy

2. An Obsession with Texts: Forget about solving the crime, postmodern detectives wants to interpret a text. Or write a text. Or sometimes they are hiding inside a text. Why bother with fingerprints and autopsy reports, when you could be consulting Baudrillard and Barthes? The producers of C.S.I. are reportedly so entranced by these books, that they are planning a follow-up show called M.L.A. Examples:
Vladimir Nabokov: Pale Fire Paul Auster: The New York Trilogy Gilbert Sorrentino: Mulligan Stew

American Fiction Notes Thomas Bernhard The The Art Lime of Reading Works The Big Read Jedediah Berry Blographia Literaria The Manual Books, of Detection Inq. Bookslut Alfred Bester Booksquare The Demolished Man A Commonplace Blog Conversational Reading Roberto Bolaño Crimespree Magazine 2666 Critical Mass Jorge Luis Borges Dana Gioia Ficciones The Elegant Variation Fictionaut Truman Capote In Search of the Classic Mystery In Cold Blood Joseph Peschel Light Reading Michael Chabon The Yiddish Policemen's Union The Literary Saloon Los Angeles Review of Books Agatha Maud Christie Newton The A.B.C. Murders The Millions The Misread City Robert Coover Mystery Fanfare Noir The Neglected Books Page Friedrich Dürrenmatt Nota Bene Books The Pledge Open Letters Monthly Readerville Umberto Eco The Reading Experience Foucault's Pendulum Reviews and Responses The Name of the Rose Tipping My Fedora DavidWaggish Gordon
The Serialist Witold Gombrowicz Cosmos Mark Haddon The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Elizabeth Hand

3. The Failed Detective: When Professor Moriarity grappled with Sherlock Holmes, sending both plunging to their death at Reichenbach Falls, reader outrage was so intense, Arthur Conan Doyle was forced to resurrect his famous detective in a follow-up story. Postmodern

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readers, in contrast, are sympathetic to the failed and foiled detective—ready to forgive incompetence with an easy excuse such as "Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown." Examples:
Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The Pledge Leonardo Sciascia: Equal Danger Alain Robbe-Grillet: The Erasers

Generation Loss Patricia Highsmith The Talented Mr. Ripley Norman N. Holland Death in a Delphi Seminar Franz Kafka The Trial Jonathan Lethem Gun, with Occasional Music Motherless Brooklyn Jean-Patrick Manchette The Prone Gunman Gabriel García Márquez Chronicle of a Death Foretold Cameron McCabe The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor Philip MacDonald The Rynox Murder China Miéville The City and the City Mo Yan The Republic of Wine Patrick Modiano Missing Person Haruki Murakami Kafka on the Shore A Wild Sheep Chase Vladimir Nabokov Pale Fire Joyce Carol Oates Mysteries of Winterthurn Flann O'Brien The Third Policeman Orhan Pamuk The Black Book

4. The Scales of Justice are Sagging: Remember that old adage about "crime doesn't pay"? It doesn't apply in the postmodern mystery. In these works, the detectives are the patsies, while the criminals seem to have an inexhaustible supply of Monopoly "Get Out of Jail Free" cards. Examples:
Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley Jean-Patrick Manchette: The Prone Gunman Gabriel García Márquez: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

5. Not Much Crime, But Plenty of Clues: Why worry about solving a particular crime, when the whole world is a web of clues and complicity? In the postmodern novel, almost everything can be seen as evidence, and even the most banal, everyday event can be infused with a sense of paranoia and foreboding. Examples:
Witold Gombrowicz: Cosmos Thomas Pynchon: The Crying of Lot 49 Umberto Eco: Foucault’s Pendulum

6. The Wounded Investigator: The heroic qualities of the detective are undermined in the postmodern mystery. Instead of the shrewd and courageous private investigator, we encounter Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old autistic boy, or Lionel Essrog, afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome, or Doc Sportello, burned out on too many drugs with barely enough brain cells functioning to find where he parked his car, let alone solve a murder mystery.

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Jonathan Lethem: Motherless Brooklyn Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Thomas Pynchon: Inherent Vice

Georges Perec A Void Marisha Pessl Special Topics in Calamity Physics Thomas Pynchon The Crying of Lot 49 Inherent Vice Alain Robbe-Grillet The Erasers The Voyeur Leonardo Sciascia The Day of the Owl Equal Danger Gilbert Sorrentino Mulligan Stew Theodore Sturgeon Some of Your Blood Miguel Syjuco Ilustrado Other articles and feature:

7. The Genre Mashup: The postmodern mind delights in the juxtaposition of contrary genres and styles. So why shouldn’t a postmodern mystery also take on elements of a sci-fi story? Or a gothic romance? Or a historical novel? Examples:
Joyce Carol Oates: Mysteries of Winterthurn Douglas Adams: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose

8. There’s No Mystery Here!: Why would the author of a crime story tell you the identity of the killer on page one? Doesn’t that spoil all the fun? But postmodern authors have a different kind of fun in mind, and part of it is playing games with your genre expectations. Examples:
Martin Amis: London Fields Paul Auster: Leviathan Thomas Bernhard: The Lime Works

50 Essential Postmodern Mysteries The 8 Memes of the Postmodern Mystery Selected Quotes on Detective Fiction

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