Expository Writing 20: The Art of Crime
Why is the criminal such a culturally resonant figure, and how might we explain the fascination with crime that persists today? What can we learn from artistic representations of crime and detection, and how are those representations influenced by larger conceptions of deviance, the law, and modern urban life? This course takes up these and other questions by examining the issue of criminality from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, from anthropology and sociology to literature and film. Our study begins in the nineteenth century with two prominent works of criminological thought: Cesare Lombroso’s Criminal Man (1876) and Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor (1851). Here we address the conflict between physiological and sociological models of criminality, and examine the literary manifestation of that conflict in Arthur Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes mysteries. From there we proceed to a comparison of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) and Anthony Minghella’s 1999 film adaptation, asking how and why the novel and the film differ so dramatically in their treatments of the vexed relationship between crime and identity. The course concludes with a look at contemporary cinematic representations of the serial killer – including Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), David Fincher’s Se7en (1995), and the television series Dexter (2006) – in the context of recent sociological, psychological, and philosophical approaches to serial murder. This final unit asks how artistic interpretations of the serial killer affect popular conceptions of violence, chance, and urban paranoia, and explores the ways in which the medium of film can respond to, reject, and complicate theoretical notions of crime and violence.