Session at the Northeast Modern Languages Association 51st Annual Convention

Even in his diatribes against the genre of detective fiction, critic Edmund Wilson pointed to its utilization of place as a point of exceptionalism, admiring the Holmes stories’ “admirable settings: the somber, over-carpeted interiors or the musty, empty houses of London, the remote old or new country places, always with shrubbery along the drives.” Traditional histories of the genre trace its development along sub-genres determined by place, like the British cosies and the American hard-boileds. More recent years have seen an explosive growth in the popularity of explicitly place-based works and a wider acknowledgment of different locations, with Scandi noir, Nigerian noir, and Tartan noir serving as just a few examples of the many proliferating subgenres. This proliferation makes increasingly clear that there are as many possible sub-genres as there are locations. Place grounds the mystery, whether that place is a specific locale, such as the scene of the crime, or a larger cultural milieu.

This panel calls for an investigation into contemporary detective fiction’s pairing of place and mystery with the goal of illuminating what the genre’s fictional topographies reveal about the cross-hatching of place and identity. People imbue places with meaning, but places also shape the identities of the people within them. The ongoing growth of subgenres formed around particular locales highlights a continued preoccupation with the function of place within the genre. But why have the dual histories of detective fiction — the histories of its creation and criticism — consistently prioritized the significance of place within the genre? Has the function of place changed over the decades? In what ways does that intersection of place and identity enable either resistance or passivity to the status quo? What commentary does the interplay between place and identity offer on the permanence and malleability of cultures, histories, or geographies?

Abstracts of 300 words and a brief bio are due by September 30, 2019.