TOPIC: "Other" Fascinations: Detectives, Spies, Paranoia

From early twentieth-century radio broadcasts to present-day bestsellers (The Da Vinci Code; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) and television shows (Law and Order; CSI), American culture has expressed both a fear of and fascination with discoveries of (and about) the unknown. This course will investigate the complexities of this phenomenon and the concomitant upsurges in popularity of detectives, spies, and paranoia as they appear in various types of textual and visual media. In our age of high-tech, readily available information, why do mysteries still fascinate us, sometimes even centuries after they have been written? What does our need to "solve" the riddles they offer tell us about our culture, and about what we "can" know? Can surveillance succeed in controlling and containing the unknown? How can knowledge of the unknown suddenly turn into paranoia, and what cultural purposes might suspicion--and the creation of it--serve? Our inquiries will likely lead us to many surprising discoveries of our own about the paradox of obsession with and fear of the unknown in contemporary culture.