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Murdering Masculinities

Fantasies of Gender and Violence in the American Crime Novel

Gregory Forter

Publication Year: 2000

Though American crime novels are often derided for containing misogynistic attitudes and limiting ideas of masculinity, Greg Forter maintains that they are instead psychologically complex and sophisticated works that demand closer attention. Eschewing the synthetic methodologies of earlier work on crime fiction, Murdering Masculinities argues that the crime novel does not provide a consolidated and stable notion of masculinity. Rather, it demands that male readers take responsibility for the desires they project on to these novels.

Forter examines the narrative strategies of five novels--Hammett's The Glass Key, Cain's Serenade, Faulkner's Sanctuary, Thompson's Pop. 1280, and Himes's Blind Man with a Pistol--in conjunction with their treatment of bodily metaphors of smell, vision, and voice. In the process, Forter unearths a "generic unconscious" that reveals things Freud both discovered and sought to repress.

Published by: NYU Press


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Front matter

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Many people contributed to this project during its long gestation. I’d first like to thank those friends who offered forms of support that are easier to acknowledge than to repay. Seth Moglen read every draft of each chapter, often more than once and always under pressure, with a loving care and attention that sustained me through good times and dark times alike, and...

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pp. 1-10

My mother died the day after I turned twelve: that is the central fact of this book. She died of a tumor, painfully and slowly, and she died at home in an empty room that I could scarcely bring myself to enter. The room was our living room before she got sick. We must once have done some living in it, though I cannot say I really remember. What I can recollect now is this: that...

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1. Hardboiled Masochism: The Corpse in Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key

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pp. 11-45

Let us begin with the hardboiled detective novel, as this—according to the critical history—is both the first American species of crime novel and the most resolutely masculinist.1 These two claims are not unrelated. The American character of the hardboiled form resides in part, as critics have noted, in its preoccupation with violence.2 And that violence typically includes a misogyny...

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2. Deadly Is the Female Animal: Smell in James Cain’s Serenade

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pp. 46-84

There’s something fishy in the work of James Cain, something that doesn’t smell right. I mean this, first of all, as a metaphor, though I propose to take that metaphor seriously. And I mean it to crystalize what the more discriminating among Cain’s critics have sensed for some time: that central to the experience of reading him—central to the fascinated revulsion that so often...

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3. The Apocalypse of Male Vision: Vomit in William Faulkner’s Sanctuary

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pp. 85-125

To read William Faulkner’s Sanctuary (1931) is to risk going crazy: this, at least, is what we must surmise from the testimony of the novel’s early reviewers. Henry Seidel Canby insists that the novel leads to “the end of all sanity in fiction.”1 Sanctuary, says another reviewer, threatens because it gives “flesh” “to . . . creatures almost too sick or too depraved to be called human”...

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4. The Killer in Me Is the Killer in You: Violent Voice in Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280

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pp. 126-170

Jim Thompson is, as he himself might have put it, one scary son of a gun—scary enough to frighten even those critics most fully committed to the consoling character of crime fiction. Robert Polito is typical in his assessment of the genre and of Thompson’s place within it. “Crime fiction,” he writes, “ordinarily . . . constitutes a comforting and conservative genre”; it follows the...

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5. The Waste of White Masculinity: Excrement in Chester Himes’s Blind Man with a Pistol

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pp. 171-213

Critics have recently begun to take seriously the detective fiction of Chester Himes.1 Raymond Nelson argues, for example, that Himes’s crime novels represent an advance over his earlier, more purely naturalistic fiction, in that they fuse the naturalist’s attention to violence with a celebration of “the rich folk-traditions of Black American culture.”2 Himes’s detective-heroes are on...

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pp. 214-230

I have argued that the crime novel is a place in our culture where a range of dominant fantasies about gender are at once hyperbolically elaborated and contested. Those fantasies are concerned above all with woman as threat to the bounded male self. They’re rooted in infantile experiences of psychic and bodily indistinction—experiences in which the fledgling self, in first beginning...


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pp. 231-259


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pp. 261-267

E-ISBN-13: 9780814728185
E-ISBN-10: 0814728189
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814726907
Print-ISBN-10: 0814726909

Page Count: 278
Publication Year: 2000

OCLC Number: 50724085
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Murdering Masculinities

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Masculinity in literature.
  • Criminals in literature.
  • Violence in literature.
  • Fantasy in literature.
  • Film noir ǂz United States ǂx History and criticism.
  • Crime in literature.
  • Men in literature.
  • Psychoanalysis and literature -- United States.
  • American fiction -- Male authors -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
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