The detective of modern life

Winkler, Tania Liselotte Lopez (2011). The detective of modern life. PhD thesis The Open University.



The thesis "The Detective of Modern Life" proposes that in the 19c the city reconfigured human experience. There is a shift from visual perception to reading. This phenomenon presents a differentiation between pre-urban perceptions of the world and the qualitative shift to urban experience, which I will argue, is centered on the capacity to 'read' different types of objects and persons. 'Reading in the city,' as a practice, unfolds into other territories that not necessarily involve the written word; for instance when you meet an stranger in the city you 'read' this person's clothing, manners, etc., as signs, that will fit him or her into a category: a wealthy gentleman, a butcher, a soldier, a prostitute, etc. It can be said that 'to know' in the city the experience of the everyday life goes through the order of categories. The importance of the novel and centrality of the crowd in a lot of 19c literature may be taken as a symptomatic index of this. The thesis examines Victorian urban life in the metropolis as a positive construct that enacts a different kind of pleasure evidenced by the flaneur and the thrill of the Private Detective: the pleasure of the fleeting and of the accident. The main argument is explored using the Private Detective literature in the 19c London from which the clue is extracted as a semantic devise and used as tool/site of investigation into urban questions.

Secondly, the thesis proposes the literary figure of the English Private Detective to be equivalent to that of the flaneur - a figure considered to be hosted in Paris and lacking in London. I argue that both figures provide what I call semiographical readings of 19c capital cities.

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