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(en) Czech, AFED: Detectives and anarchism

Date Tue, 12 May 2020 07:56:20 +0300


Do you also read detective stories for quarantine? What about crime against the background of capitalist relations? ---- What do detective stories and the social revolution have in common? Isn't reading and writing stories in this genre a means of escaping real problems, escaping life? Aren't their heroes supermen defending political order and capitalist property relations? ---- Of course, reading detective stories can serve as an escape from reality: who among us would not like to forget, at least for a moment, the disgusting monotony and stereotype of everyday life in capitalism? And yet detective stories are not limited to this. There is something else hidden in them. ---- The beginnings of detective stories must be traced to social criticism. The first detective novel, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (Things as They Are, or The Adventures of Caleb Williams) wrote in 1794 one of the first anarchist William Godwin. The author used the history of one murder and its investigation by Caleb Williams to subject radical criticism to the despotism of a society in which the law only serves as a weapon from the arsenal of the ruling class.

Caleb serves the aristocrat Lord Falkland and accidentally discovers that the Lord has committed murder for which another person has been imprisoned. Although he is not going to expose his master, Falkland has him imprisoned for lying. Caleb escapes, but is ruthlessly persecuted. To save himself, he tells the truth and the lord is forced to confess to the crime. Even after Falkland's death, Caleb Williams is tormented by remorse because he considers Falkland to be the product of a criminal social system and regrets his role in the death of the aristocrat.

The adventures of Caleb Williams have all the elements of a classic detective story, but at the same time he uncompromisingly criticizes social injustice and a corrupt justice system. Both crime and the criminal himself are the products of the existing system.

With the help of market production, capitalism controls what the state cannot forbid and suppress. Capitalism changes new ideas and directions in goods and thus deprives them of revolutionary content. He did the same with the socially critical novel. The detective novel has turned into an instrument of maintaining the existing order - it solves criminal mysteries in his favor.

A classic example is Sherlock Holmes. If Godwin used the detective genre to explain how the social mechanism works, how economic, political, and judicial power works (Caleba first had to be subtitled Things as They Are ), Conan Doyle presents the reader with mystery as an intellectual conundrum. By imitating the style of contemporary scientific research, he developed the basics of today's detective story. However, his mysterious detective Holmes is a loner, standing above the surrounding society, in a way a Nietzschean superman, able to unravel secrets even when they capitulate to the forces of "law and order". He is the perfect "expert", the forerunner of the "specialists" and managers who control our entire lives today. And it defends the ruling class.

The great Agatha Christie went even further. If Holmes helped individual representatives of the ruling caste, then in Agatha Christie's novels the way of life of the upper classes of British society is protected. The threat comes from outside, especially from the "lower classes" who do not know their place or do not recognize it. The real innovation that Christie brought was that her investigation was led not only by an expert, but also by an ordinary "old lady" - Miss Marple.

In the days of the predominant reactionary form of detective stories, there was also one revolutionary attempt to create a story of crime through social criticism. We are talking about Franz Kafka's novel The Trial , which, however, is usually not classified as a detective story.

The main character of the novel K. is accused of some mysterious institution of committing an obscure crime, about which he is not clear either. He is unsuccessfully trying to achieve justice in a despotic and absolute power with which he cannot even come into direct contact. The culmination is the complete disillusionment of K., the loss of all human dignity and his animal execution.

Kafka combined the person of the detective and the accused into one character and showed that power, bureaucracy, authority work only in their own interest. K. did not commit any crime - at least the crime he is accused of is not even named. The central theme of Kafka's story is the will and irrationality of state power.

The process is an overwhelming critique of power. It is not for nothing that Kafka was apparently in contact with Czech anarchists. However, his attempt to add radicality to crime stories remained an exception in Europe shaken by war and revolution.

Another serious attempt to return the detective to her socially critical role was made by a group of writers who gathered around the American detective magazine Black Mask .

The most prolific of them was Erle Stanley Gardner, who became one of the most successful authors of detective stories in the history of American literature. He created the unforgettable character of lawyer Perry Mason. Gardner built detective stories on several key elements - dialogues, plot and plot. And he did so well that Raymond Chandler later took some of the plot from his Dangerous Widow Case into his novel Goodbye Either, My Love . Early novels about Perry Mason are radically focused. In them, the renowned lawyer defends the persecuted against injustice and the sales police (as did the beginning lawyer Gardner himself).

At the same time, he collaborated with the Black Mask Dashiell Hammett. He worked for a time at the Pinkerton detective agency, founded in the 19th century and "famous" for collaborating on strike and shooting at workers. What Hammett saw and experienced there enabled him to understand the true nature of capitalist society and led him to communist views. He has written several novels, including The Red Harvest , an almost undisguised allegory of universal capitalist marketability leading to a social revolution. However, this work is less well known than his later books The Maltese Falcon or The Skinny Man. Hammett is considered the father of a new concept of the genre - the so-called rough school. He thus laid the foundations of a real transformation of the contemporary detective genre, the most important representative of which was Raymond Chandler. He perfected the detective language introduced by Hammett under the influence of the great American writer Francis Scott Fitzgerald.

He used words and images out of the ordinary context and gave them razor sharpness, creating a style that aroused the enthusiasm of such excellent writers as Sartre and Camus, and influenced a generation of writers, such as James Hanley.

The background to the detective stories of Hammett and Chandler is the American "dry law" of the 1920s and 1930s. It changed the picture of crime in the USA, erased the difference between different types of crime, led to its prosperity and turned corruption in the police apparatus and the judiciary into a system.

Chandler criticized the helplessness of the traditional detective story in the excellent essay The Simple Art of Murder . The hero of Chandler's stories, Phill Marlow, serves as a mediator to show the reader that general, systemic marketability. He works on the orders of the rich and powerful, who are no less criminals than ordinary bandits, with whom they often pact.

Ross Macdonald also adopted Chandler's method. His detective stories are a harsh accusation of contemporary capitalism. In his language, there are many parallels with Hammett and Fitzgerald, and the social critique in his novels is based on the influence of social conditions on individuals.

Macdonald often combines the social and psychological consequences of wars and crimes committed much later. As if to show the influence of militarism on future generations. Young people are often weighed down between honesty and crime, hope and despair. However, Macdonald puts hope for social change.

It also shows the relationship between capitalism and the destruction of nature. In the novel The Missing, the suburbs of Los Angeles are threatened by a forest fire, and in this context, Macdonald's hero Lew Archer investigates a murder and disappearance case. The ecological catastrophe threatens from the outside, and the emptiness and the alienation of the rich divide society from within. Macdonald put the two factors together: it turns out that the murder under investigation led to the fire. It becomes so obvious that man's relationship to man is directly linked to man's relationship to nature.

Traditions of socially critical detective stories also exist in other countries. Léo Malet, a well-known French author of detective stories and "black novels", was a surrealist and anarchist in his youth. Anarchists are also devoted to several of his novels, such as The Fog on the Tolbia Bridge and The Crazy Years of Nestor Burma . An example of a journalist who helps investigate Malet's hero Nestor Burm was André Colomer, who edited the French anarchist newspaper Le Libertaire in the 1920s . Burma himself, with his nonconformism, resembles Chandler's hero Phil Marlow.

Later detective stories made the murder in memory of 1984 written by the libertarian socialist Didier Daeninckx. Like Macdonald, the author combines individual and social crime. The murder in 1961 during the Algerian independence demonstrations in Paris was followed twenty years later by the murder of the victim's son. The revelation of the crime shows a link between police settlements with Algerians and the deportation of Jews to Nazi death camps during World War II (a book long before Maurice Papon's conviction opens the case of this collaborator and subsequently a successful civil servant, MP and minis

https://www.afed.cz/text/7167/detektivky-a-anarchismus
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