“Trashy Fun or Secret Treasure? The Hidden Value of Detective Fiction”
Presented by Caroline Levine, the David and Kathleen Ryan Professor of
the Humanities, Department of English, Cornell University.
Imagine that you come upon a dead body. What if there are no
eye-witnesses? What if the evidence has been tainted or planted? Maybe
someone is acting oddly, or has a strong motive. Do you leap to conclude
that that person is the killer? If you make a mistake, a murderer could
go free and an innocent person might be jailed for life. How do you
know for sure that you have arrived at the truth?
Detective fiction might seem just like fun entertainment, but since the
beginning it’s been concerned with the question of how we know things.
From Sherlock Holmes to the team of police officers on The Wire,
fictional detectives model different ways of finding the truth. This
talk will show how detective fiction actually provides ways to think
about most serious questions we ever face: what is knowledge, and how do
we discover it? What counts as good evidence? How do we know what
motivates people to act as they do? How do we know when we’ve got enough
to be sure that we’re right—if ever? Detective stories will draw their
answers from a vast range of real kinds of knowledge-seeking, from
ballistics and forensics to historical documents and gossip. All of
these methods have real-world applications. We will think about who
solves crimes in detective fiction—including lawyers and homemakers—and
ask what kinds of strategies these different people use. And we will see
how this popular entertainment provides problem-solving models for the
many questions in our own lives that can’t be answered just by searching
for answers on Google.
See more information about Caroline Levine