English C136

Topics in American Studies: Noir: Films, Fiction, Criticism

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2019 Moran, Kathleen and Greil Marcus
TTh 3:30-5 101 Moffitt


A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness. It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is. I didn't have one. I didn't care.”  --Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye  1953

Taking shape and definition in the late 1930s and the first years of the 1940s, when the United States was more than ten years into the Great Depression and the Second World War was either imminent or had already begun, and continuing into the early 1960s, noir was a sensibility and a way of being in the world.  It was a critique, an attitude, a mood, a language, and aesthetic of alienation where cynicism was part of a moral code and fatalism a part of democratic faith—and it was expressed, developed, and tested at the margins of legitimate cultural discourse: in low-budget or Poverty Row Hollywood movies, crime fiction, and TV police and detective dramas.  In this course we will discuss such still-stunning films as Double Indemnity, Detour, and Sunset Boulevard alongside such indelible novels as Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely, Ross Macdonald’s The Way Some People Die, Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go, and Jim Thompson’s Nothing More Than Murder, and the prescient as-it-happened film criticism of Manny Farber.  Our goal is to explore, as noir artists did, an America within America—and to illuminate noir within its historical period, to understand why it arose and how it dramatized specific wartime and postwar American traumas about citizenship, gender relations, the reintegration of millions of soldiers into peacetime society, abundance, corruption, and the fear of enemies from abroad and within.  And to explore some of the most provocative and lasting literature and film America has produced. 

This course is cross-listed with American Studies C111E.

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