Seminar: Crime Fiction as World Literature

Seminar: Crime Fiction as World Literature

Thursday, 16th November, at 14.00 in C1079
 
Crime Fiction as World Literature: Transnational Settings in Gerhard Roth’s Verbrechensromanen 
Dr Marieke Krajenbrink, University of Limerick.
 
ABSTRACT
From its early development in the work of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, crime fiction has been a genre that transcends national borders. In its worldwide proliferation today, it is certainly one of the most globalized of all literary genres. This makes crime fiction a highly relevant area for investigation in comparative literature and world literature studies. While research on crime fiction initially focussed on investigating individual national traditions of crime writing, mainly in the English language, we currently see a trend towards studies taking a transnational approach and to reading crime fiction as world literature. 
 
While world literature traditionally has been understood largely in terms of elite productions with a focus on a Western classical canon, over the past fifteen years the concept has shifted and is now rather seen as matter of circulation and reception. Reading crime fiction as world literature thus implies looking at, for instance, the ways in which works change as they move from national to global contexts, “the presence of the world within the nation” (David Damrosch) and “how seemingly nationally-bound novels engage with the world beyond the nation in which they originate” (Stewart King).  
 
Against this background this seminar explores transnational cross-fertilization in crime fiction in the case of Austrian author Gerhard Roth, analyzing the interplay of the local and the global in the development of his oeuvre.   
Roth’s early novels Der große Horizont (The Big Horizon, 1972) and Ein neuer Morgen (A New Morning, 1976) are set in the United States and abound with allusions to Raymond Chandler, foregrounding the typical elements of hard-boiled crime fiction and its characteristic locale, which appear as a formula, familiar to Austrian readers primarily through TV series and cinema, rather than as a reality.
 
In the cycle Die Archive des Schweigens (The Archives of Silence, 1980-91) Roth turns his attention to his native Austria, and this change of setting goes hand in hand with an increasing concern with uncovering the silenced history and legacy of National Socialism in Austria. Roth’s use of the genre now takes on a strong political dimension and a new kind of realism, showing a critical concern with social injustice and corruption, thus echoing key aspects of the hard-boiled that remained marginal in his earlier US-set work.
 
Mapping this trajectory in Roth’s oeuvre, I explore how this concern with the realities of violence, power, memory and crime is retained in a later phase in the cycle Orkus (1993-2011), where Roth strongly “worlds” his novels, broadening out his settings to include the Balkans, Japan, Egypt and Spain. Combining crime elements with those of travel writing, these novels continue and expand the investigation, exposing connections between local and global crime.