The Complex Art of Murder

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The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the literary value of hardboiled detective fiction. I consider two different arguments for literary value, one based on Martin Heidegger’s philosophy of art and the other on the tradition of form-content inseparability in literary aesthetics and literary criticism. The former is reliant on the genre’s combination of formal complexity with substantive superficiality and the latter on the combination of formal complexity with substantive complexity. I employ Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939) and Nelson DeMille’s Plum Island (1997) as examples, focusing on the question of whether or not they have thematic content. I demonstrate that the novels instantiate substantive themes – about corruption, alienation, and moral amnesia – in consequence of which the argument for form-content inseparability is more compelling. I conclude by suggesting that form-content inseparability underpins both the literary value of hardboiled detective fiction and the genre’s capacity for aesthetic education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-80
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Aesthetic Education
Issue number3
Early online date1 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022


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