English 100

Junior Seminar: Criminal Literature-Writing Against the Law

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
13 Spring 2006 Fielding, John David
Fielding, John
TTh 3:30-5 283 Dwinelle

Other Readings and Media

Jack Black: You Can't Win; William S. Burroughs: Junky; Jim Thompson: Savage Night; James Carr: Bad; Iceberg Slim: Trick Baby; Edward Bunker: No Beast So Fierce; Course Reader


"This course will focus on a selection of twentieth-century American crime novels (as well as upon a few films). Throughout the course we will consider why America, a nation founded by puritan zealots and known infamously as the policeman of the world, is also a violent and crime-riddled country, and produces a steady stream of crime fiction gems. Why does the American outlaw draw more admiration than repugnance, or inspire a tendency to heroicize as much as vilify criminal behavior? As the course title suggests, the focus will be on the point of view of those living outside of the law, rather than the pursuits of those attempting to reign them in, on robbers rather than cops. Through such a perspective we will consider what it is about the American myth of individualism coupled with rapacious capitalism that fuels the criminal response. Specifically, we will explore the cultural, social, economic, existential and racial aspects of crime as they are artistically rendered in the texts listed. Thus, above all, we will explore the art of crime by analyzing the different aesthetic forms through which such deviance is represented.

Finally, because most, if not all, of these texts fall well outside the traditional academic canon, we will use this anomaly to explore the parameters of high art from the outside. That is, we will inquire how these texts are both similar to and different from the paragons of American literature.

Be warned: Many of these works depict a disturbing depravity in jarring violent and sexual detail. "

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