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SIX FROM DIAGNOSIS TO DEDUCTION S H E R L O C K H O L M E S A N D T H E P E R V E R S I O N O F R E A L I S M I F NATURALISM eagerly (some would say, all too eagerly) insists on being read in the context supplied by the sciences of its time, and in so doing establishes both its affinity with and its distance fromrealismasagenre,theclassicaldetectivestorywouldseematfirst glance to transcend context—whether historical or generic—altogether . Even though detective fiction seems more directly concerned with questions of knowledge than any other genre, there is nothing discursiveorevenfundamentallyhistorical,itwouldappear,aboutthe wayknowledgeisgeneratedinthisgenre.Asithasbeentheorized,the detective story seems a “form without ideological content” (to quote Jameson)inwhichnotaclinical,orembryological,orDarwinianscientific discourse, but something like a pure rationality, a logic, can be analyzed.1 The nature of that logic, to be sure, remains highly debatable . Jacques Lacan, for example, reads Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” as an allegory of the logic of the signifier, a logic of the unconscious that permits (indeed, requires) nonidentity and contradiction.2 For thenarrativetheoristPeterBrooks,ontheotherhand,ConanDoyle’s “The Musgrave Ritual” offers “an allegory of plot” that illustrates an equally bizarre “double logic” operating in all narratives.3 As one might expect, philosophers present more normative as well as more precise models of the logic in detective fiction, although even here disagreements persist, with each philosophical tradition narcissisticallyseeingtheimageofitsownfavoredideaoflogicmirroredinwhat the detective does. Thus Bertrand Russell, in his classic essay, “Descriptions ,” suggests that detective fiction offers a logical positivist form of knowledge.4 More recently, Umberto Eco, Thomas Sebeok, andothersemioticianshavearguedthatdetectivestoriesillustratethe quitedifferentphilosophicallogicofPeirceianabduction;gametheoristslikeHintikka ,inturn,havetakenthesamestoriesasexemplifying the logic of game theory.5 But whatever the disagreements over the shape detective logic takes, there is no disagreement about the claim FRO M DIA GNO SIS T O DEDUCTIO N 131 that the genre of the detective story represents an apotheosis of the logical. For the literary historian interested in studying genres as historical phenomena, the ahistorical and even antitextual bias of theories of detective fiction seems both extreme and frustrating—extreme becauseitreducestorock -hardclaritythethickatmospherethatlurksin somanydetectivestories,frustratingbecauselogic,althoughaformof knowledge, is not historically precise in the way discourses are. But in isolating the logic in detective fiction from all textual and contextual implicationsasthetranscendentalessenceofthegenre,thenarratologists ,psychoanalysts,andsemioticianscanclaimtobemerelyobeying an imperative inscribed within the fiction itself (or at least within its most spectacular and central instance): the imperative to recognize what Sherlock Holmes calls “the light of pure reason”6 shining through the narrative’s murky complexities. As Holmes admonishes Watson, “logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell. You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales.”7 Ideally, Holmes implies ,one ought to be able toreconstitute those lectures, that logic, in abstraction from the story or tale. That, indeed, is the telos of the theorists as well. ButasHolmes’slastsentencerecognizes,suchatelosisnotidentical to the detective story. The tale does not get subsumed by the lecture on logic that may be contained in it. And so a different, degraded lecture may and does persist despite Holmes’s best efforts, a reading experience grounded in what Holmes describes as the “sensational” aspects of his cases. The contextual reference is, at one level, to the crime literature of the novel of sensation—to Braddon, LeFanu, and Collins—as well as to the sensationalist journalism of the 1880s and 1890s, and Watson elsewhere tells us that Holmes possesses an “immense ” knowledge of this literature. As D. A. Miller has shown, however, one should understand the sensational first and foremost as referringtosomethingmoreimmediatelytextual—tothepalpablesomatic effects of shock, confusion, surprise, confirmation, jubilation, and craving for more produced when one reads the detective story as most of its faithful readers do (as opposed to what Barthes calls the “pensive”effectsoneenjoysinreadingrealisticnovels).8 Detectivefictionyieldsnotonlypurelyabstractknowledge ,butsomethinglikecarnal knowledge as well. It can be thought of, then, as enacting not only a logic but also an erotics. An erotics, to be sure, that is disavowed by narrative theorists, as well as by Holmes himself. But any complete analysis of the genre 132 SIX must account not only for the logic inherent in detection, but for the well-nigh addictive pleasures (or at least sensations) inherent in detecting —and in reading about detecting. Logic and sensation, moreover , must be understood as coexisting and interacting within the same narrative space. But what could the pure, austere logic of the detective story possibly have to do with...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400820689
Related ISBN
9780691029542
MARC Record
OCLC
179077097
Pages
252
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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