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About this book

Truth to Post-Truth in American Detective Fiction examines questions of truth and relativism, turning to detectives, both real and imagined, from Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin to Robert Mueller, to establish an oblique history of the path from a world where not believing in truth was unthinkable to the present, where it is common to believe that objective truth is a remnant of a simpler, more naïve time. Examining detective stories both literary and popular including hard-boiled, postmodern, and twenty-first century novels, the book establishes that examining detective fiction allows for a unique view of this progression to post-truth since the detective’s ultimate job is to take the reader from doubt to belief. David Riddle Watson shows that objectivity is intersubjectivity, arguing that the belief in multiple worlds is ultimately what sustains the illusion of relativism.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction: From Clear Speaking to Misunderstanding

Abstract
The work begins by discussing the 2016 election and comments concerning “post-truth,” “fake news,” and “alternative facts” to bring to the fore the central problem regarding truth and consensus that this project addresses. The introduction presents the current state of debate on the causes of the post-truth era, with scholars such as Lee McIntyre and popular writers like Michiko Kakutani faulting postmodern philosophy for creating a climate of relativism. Following the works of philosophers like Charles Taylor and Donald Davidson, I conversely suggest that “post-truth” is rooted in the belief that “reality” is located inside a subject’s mind and suggest this belief has been sustainable because of growing distrust in conventional sources of shared social meaning. I argue that this radically subjective model of truth can be successfully combatted by using a pragmatic model of intersubjectivity based on Davidson’s work. To illustrate these theories in action, I examine detective fiction of the last century. This approach proves fruitful, for, in each period analyzed (modern, postmodern, contemporary), the reader observes shifting assumptions about truth, world, and ontology.
David Riddle Watson

Chapter 2. Closed Worlds and Cold Detectives

Abstract
Beginning with Edgar Allan Poe’s invention of the detective story and moving through the hard-boiled works of Hammett and Chandler, we see the beginning of a trajectory, moving from Poe’s rationalism, through Sherlock Holmes’s empiricism, and into the existential world of Spade and Marlowe. In this chapter, we begin with a world where certainty and closure are achievable. At the end of both Poe’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, there is no more mystery. The reader’s doubt has left; the moral order restored. Detectives Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade move out among the criminal class, introducing the reader to a darker world, a morally ambiguous world. While we do get consensus at the end of the works, closure seems harder to obtain in a world that has lived through World War I and World War II, casting doubt on transcendental sources of certainty.
David Riddle Watson

Chapter 3. Cold Wars and Porous Borders

Abstract
Examined in this chapter is the rise of instrumental rationality alongside the Cold War. Specifically, I look at the films The Third Man and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and the novel One Lonely Night to examine the attempt to justify actions because of the perceived threat of the other’s evil possibilities. I show how the spies dealt with in this chapter are unable to decipher the intentions of their interlocutor, leading to what will become an ironic postmodern stance toward truth and information. Finally, I address Nicholson Baker’s recent work Baseless, in which he attempts to discover if the United States used biological weapons during the Korean War. Through his rigorous attempts to answer a straightforward question, I show the deep connection between the birth of the National Security State during the Cold War and our contemporary society.
David Riddle Watson

Chapter 4. The Bleak and the Dread: From Existential Angst to Postmodern Paranoia

Abstract
This chapter highlights the move from experimental texts of Samuel Beckett and Jorge Luis Borges and into the postmodern world of Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon. Beckett and Borges both play with paradoxes of infinity, complicating the idea of closure that we count on our detectives to achieve. Borges rewrites Poe’s early stories and, with just a few twists, turns the central question of truth on its head: what if it is our desire for order, not order itself, is leading our investigative attempts. Pynchon and DeLillo further complicate the architecture of doubt; whereas previously doubt could be eliminated by finding one final clue, these postmodern novels deal with the problem of information overload. This chapter explores this new problem and how it has helped the growth of conspiracy theories.
David Riddle Watson

Chapter 5. The Flat-Earth Society: Tracing Networks in the Contemporary World

Abstract
Turning to the contemporary period, loosely coinciding with the fall of the Berlin Wall, I examine recent philosophical attempts to reckon with the globalized, networked world we inhabit. Using Gilles Lipovetsky’s concept of hypermodernism as a starting point and discussing theoretical frameworks from object-oriented ontology to actor-network Theory, I “flatten” the world to trace relationships that examine the possibilities of truth and closure in a networked world. I examine Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves as a paradigmatic case of the networked novel. While House of Leaves makes the networked world seem hopelessly complex, I offer a counterexample. In applying Donald Davidson’s theory of triangulation to the television series The Wire, I argue networks can, in fact, be traced if only we take the proper stance toward the world and the other.
David Riddle Watson

Chapter 6. Living in Two Separate Worlds: The Feral Detective, The City and the City, and the Problem of Relativism

Abstract
This chapter deals with the philosophical problem of relativism related to the contemporary concerns about the cultural divide that has produced two Americas. I begin by discussing Jonathan Lethem’s The Feral Detective and China Mieville’s The City and the City, each providing examples of a successful detective who can move productively through environments imagined too far apart for this to be possible. Applying the philosophical work of Donald Davidson and others, I show how this productive movement is possible and that people may be “words” rather than “worlds” apart. Finally, this chapter concludes by examining Donald Trump’s rise and the rhetorical tools his supporters use to sustain their belief that he alone is capable of telling the truth.
David Riddle Watson

Chapter 7. The United States of V, White, and Q

Abstract
This chapter turns to the events of January 6, 2021, when the Capitol was attacked by a group of conspiracy-minded Trump supporters who believed that the 2020 election of Joe Biden had been “rigged.” I examine this event as a case study in what is at stake if we continue to believe we are “worlds” apart. I also address how the decline of trust in traditional authoritative structures has helped spread conspiracy theories such as QAnon and Russiagate, illustrating that the American political class has been engaged in bad detective work, finding the solution before discovering the clues. After a brief discussion of V for Vendetta to outline the danger of the growing risk of nihilism, I conclude by turning to the topic of democracy, arguing that the same intersubjective matrix that underlies good detective work underlies a functioning democracy.
David Riddle Watson

Backmatter

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