The arresting eye: Race and the detection of deception

The arresting eye: Race and the detection of deception

University of Southern California
December 2005
282 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3220115
ISBN: 9780542713217

Jinny Huh

A Dissertation Presented to the FACULTY OF THE GRADUATE SCHOOL UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY (ENGLISH)

With increasing rates of miscegenation and racially invisible bodies, how is race to be determined? This dissertation examines the dynamics and discourse of race detection through a comparative analysis of detective fiction and passing narratives, two genres that witnessed a simultaneous rise during the mid-nineteenth century. I argue that the detective fiction genre in many ways prospers and responds to the anxiety of racial indecipherability by creating a systematic method of detection. By examining narratives of detection and passing written by both white and ethnic authors ranging from Arthur Conan Doyle and Earl Derr Biggers to Pauline Hopkins and Winnifred Eaton, among others, this study demonstrates that the politics and mechanics of race detection is highly specific to the eye of the gazer attuned to distinguishing the signs of race. For example, while Dupin and Holmes may exhibit mystically and supernaturally intuitive powers, Pauline Hopkins (author of the first African American detective in Hagar’s Daughter) shows that intuition and race detection is a necessary component of the African American community. On the other hand, Winnifred Eaton (the first Asian American novelist) responds to the obsession with detection by promoting a rhetoric of undetection in the emergence of Asian American fiction. Finally, in response to Eaton’s celebration of undetection within the Asian American context, Earl Derr Biggers’s Charlie Chan series demonstrate the anxieties of promoting an Asian American detective hero during the height of Yellow Peril paranoia.

In addition to examining the politics of race detection in literature, this dissertation also explores how numerous disciplines formulate their own concepts of “racial knowledges” via a discourse of detection (such as film studies, visual studies, law, ethnography, and literary history). As such, through a comparative focus which encompasses multiple levels (19th/20th century, male/female, British/American, African American/Asian American, literature/film), my study also addresses the potential threat and implications of racial erasure to Ethnic Studies specifically and Civil Rights overall.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Whispers of Norbury: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Modernist Crisis of Racial (Un)Detection
  • Chapter Two: Intuitive Faculties and Racial Clairvoyance: Pauline Hopkins and the Emergence of Multiethnic Detective Fiction
  • Chapter Three: The Legacy of Winnifred Eaton: Ethnic Ambidexterity, Undetection as Guerilla Tactics, and the Emergence of Asian American Fiction
  • Chapter Four: “The Jaundiced Eye”: Charlie Chan and the Mysterious Disappearance of a Detective Hero
  • Bibliography

Purchase the dissertation here.

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