Detectives and Storytellers: On Vulnerability and Care in Leslie Scalapino’s Genre Fiction
Detective stories feature prominently in Leslie Scalapino’s innovative novels Orion, Defoe, Orchid Jetsam, and Dahlia’s Iris. The novels combine narratives of crimes and investigations typical of the detective genre with formal and linguistic disruptions developed and theorized by writers associated with Language Writing. This article traces Scalapino’s experimentation with the detective genre back to her confrontation with Language Writing’s exclusionary emphasis on formal disruption, articulated most fully in her 1991 Poetics Journal dialogue with Ron Silliman. Drawing on Nel Noddings and Judith Butler’s theories of interdependence and care, it argues that Scalapino’s detective stories foreground the constitutive nature of human vulnerability. In so doing, the article extends Joan Retallack, Małgorzata Myk, and Michael Cross’s recent studies of Scalapino’s philosophical poetics. It proposes that Scalapino’s critical engagement with the conventions of the detective genre informs her layered conceptions of being, experiencing, and conscious subjectivity and argues that her detective novels pursue a series of questions posed by Gertrude Stein and Walter Benjamin decades earlier: How do detectives do their work and what is the reader’s role? How do stories inspire or inhibit mutual understanding? Given vulnerability’s pervasiveness, who deserves care, who is responsible for providing it, and at what cost?
"Detectives and Storytellers: On Vulnerability and Care in Leslie Scalapino’s Genre Fiction,"
Criticism: Vol. 64:
2, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol64/iss2/3