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Study on McBain

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Akira View Drop Down

Joined: 10 Nov 2010
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    Posted: 29 Nov 2010 at 9:47pm
The book,"Evan Hunter/Ed McBain: A Literary Companion" (tentative title) will be published by McFarland & Company, Inc. in the spring of 2011. The author is Professor Erin MacDonald of University of Waterloo, Ontario. She wrote theses such as "The Rhetoric of Race: The Use of Racial Sterotypes in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct Novels" and "Genre and Masculinity in Ed McBain" for the Journal of American & Comparative Cultures. If everything goes well and as planned, the 87th Precinct Map I made will be included in it. It is not the map of Isola City, but the map of the precinct.

Edited by Akira - 01 Dec 2010 at 8:36am
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The Gaucho View Drop Down

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Post Options Post Options   Quote The Gaucho Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Dec 2010 at 9:48am
Those are both interesting theses topics that would be fun to read. The first title got me thinking, "Stereotypes?" But yes. Arthur Brown was key to cracking a case by casting a threatening and stereotypical shawdow over the young lady from Georgia. Charlie Chen was a stereotype. You wouldn't have to look hard to find Puerto Rican steroetypes. And yet within these characters - use Charlie Chen for example - an economical paragraph or two is enough to produce a deepness and richness that engages the empathy of the reader.

The second title I find connected to the first. Just as McBain might use a stereotype as a character's foundation and then build upon and enrich it, in the same way he took the genre of pulp detective fiction ... which is almost a masculine sterotype in itself - situations of peril involving strong, tough men and beautiful women of questionable virtue ... and he transformed and elevated it into something richer.
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bettyblue View Drop Down

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Post Options Post Options   Quote bettyblue Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Jan 2011 at 4:20pm
Originally posted by The Gaucho

Just as McBain might use a stereotype as a character's foundation and then build upon and enrich it, in the same way he took the genre of pulp detective fiction ... which is almost a masculine sterotype in itself - situations of peril involving strong, tough men and beautiful women of questionable virtue ... and he transformed and elevated it into something richer.

I just completely agree!
I'd personally add that perhaps not even his apparent "stereotypes" really can be defined that way, 'cause IMO a true stereotype is only the one utilized by someone that doesn't even realize it's a stereotype, being convinced it's the only one right way to see/describe people and things.
So I always thought that Evan/Ed's evident huge irony in handling that all automatically took any stereotypical qualities off it.
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The Gaucho View Drop Down

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Post Options Post Options   Quote The Gaucho Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Jun 2011 at 9:53am
There's that airport security scene from George Clooney's recent movie, "Up in the Air":

Ryan Bingham: [on getting through airport security] Never get behind old people. Their bodies are littered with hidden metal and they never seem to appreciate how little time they have left. Bingo, Asians. They pack light, travel efficiently, and they have a thing for slip on shoes. Gotta love 'em.

Natalie Keener: That's racist.

Ryan Bingham: I'm like my mother, I stereotype. It's faster.
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babble View Drop Down

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Post Options Post Options   Quote babble Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Dec 2011 at 4:38am
According to Amazon.com it seems the book "Ed McBain / Evan Hunter: A Literary Companion (Mcfarland Companions to Mystery Fiction) by Erin E. Macdonald" will be released on January 30, 2012.
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Sé McCormack View Drop Down

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Sé McCormack Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Dec 2013 at 9:04pm
The essay on The Rhetoric of Race is available here.......


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Sé McCormack View Drop Down

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Sé McCormack Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Jan 2014 at 4:21pm

And seeing as how I've been away for so long, and missed so many occasions, here's another present I've managed to source.

What do you think of them apples, Gertie? Enjoy!

Genre and Masculinity in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct Novels
Erin E. MacDonald

As Bakhtin points out in his discussion of the chronotope, form and content, time and space must
be considered together when studying any particular genre (The Dialogic Imagination 84).

Serialization reflects the primary characteristic of the chronotope of police procedural fiction, and its connection to contemporary ideas of masculinity. Like work, especially detective work that routinely addresses the ongoing crimes of an urban center, the series is never-ending. Unlike an individual hero quest in which the lone main character realizes his goal at the end of the story, the plot of the police procedural is cyclical and eternal, encompassing all time and space at once. The structure, wording, and attitude of Ed McBain’s novels confirm such a reading of the interconnectedness of genre and gender.

The time and space of the police procedural series is a masculine chronotope reflecting society’s concept of the workingman, whosecyclicalwork-eat-sleeplife in turn reflects the cyclical routines of police work.
McBain’s novels take place in The City, in cyclical, never-ending time. This, I argue, is the chronotope of the police procedural novel, and this chronotope, this generic characteristic, is precisely what allows for a continuous exploration of socio-political issues.

Critic George N. Dove is wrong in claiming that socio-political issues are not a focus of the 87th Precinct series. McBain may not always focus on socio-economic reasons for crime, but his books constantly discuss the topics of racism, oppression, and poverty.

The series began with Cop Hater, The Mugger, and The Pusher in 1956, during a decade that is now infamous for its patriarchal emphasis on the spheres of masculine work and feminine domesticity.

Although the books are filled with murders and criminals who do not always get ‘‘put away’’ by ‘‘the good guys,’’ their focus on police detective life as work, and especially as masculine work, fits well with the preoccupations of 1950s North American culture.

The emphasis on the police detective as a worker is helped along by McBain’s refusal to continue the usual Golden Age mystery or hard-boiled tradition of focusing on one individual hero. His detectives are not just foils to a Holmesian character or fodder for comic relief. The men in the 87th work together as a team, within an institutionalized system of law and order, and they need their wages to survive.

Despite McBain’s greater focus on the realities of police routine, police sub-culture, and urban life, his
narrative choices are not strictly realistic. Much like the gender commentary found within a television series, the points he communicates about male workers in the twentieth-century city can be made, according to Dove, within ‘‘frames of reference that tend to be self-contained, without relationships with the real world and real time’’ (3). However, real world issues such as gender and class do pervade the series, just not to the point of sacrificing narrative or style.

McBain’s subtle twisting of time and space results in, as Dove writes, ‘‘not fantasy, not parody, not social criticism, but something else’’ (3), although Dove is content to leave this unique characteristic vague and unidentified. However, the theories of cultural critics and genre theorists such as Mikhail Bakhtin can tell us a great deal about this ‘‘something else.’’

Bakhtin’s ‘‘Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel’’ serves to shed light on McBain’s pop-cultural
project. The theorist defines the ‘‘chronotope’’ as ‘‘the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial
relationships that are artistically expressed in literature’’ (84). Bakhtin continues: In the literary artistic chronotope, spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole. Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history.

This intersection of axes and fusion of indicators characterizes the artistic chronotope. The chronotope in literature has an intrinsic generic significance. It can even be said that it is precisely the chronotope that defines genre and generic distinctions, for in literature the primary category in the chronotope is 47 time. The chronotope as a formally constitutive category determines to a significant degree the image of man in literature as well. The image of man is always intrinsically chronotopic. (85)

In his 87th Precinct police procedural series, Ed McBain fuses time, space, and generic convention into an image of The City, and of man within it. The time of the police procedural series is generally cyclical, in the sense that crime and its punishment recurs over and over. ‘‘Murder’’ is never solved once and for all—some individual cases of murder are solved, only to be replaced by others needing to be solved. In fact, the genre of the police procedural series must by definition be cyclical, since the detectives are workers whose job it is to get up every day and go to the office, answer calls, conduct investigations, go home, and get up the next day to do the same type of work again. Crime is a never-
ending cycle that enables detective story writers (and especially police detective story writers) to continue their series into infinity.

But if this is the case, why do such series never become completely boring and predictable? Why do people continue to buy them, read them, and contribute to their enormous success in the pop culture market? One major possibility is quite simple.

Readers of a police procedural series (especially the male readers to whom they are primarily directed) derive enjoyment from noting the similarities to their own situations of work and masculinity. The detectives’ routines stay almost exactly the same, but their relationships with ‘‘the system,’’ with their bosses, with women, and with other men are continuously fused together and explored within the chronotope of the twentieth-century multicultural urban center. The fact that the series focuses on a team of men rather than on one particular male hero enables this reader- novel relationship, since the male reader can identify with the characters by saying, ‘‘We are all men working.’’ This identification is in sharp contrast to the experience of reading, for example, a Sherlock Holmes or an Agatha Christie story, about which most readers could only say, ‘‘What a brilliant sleuth—I wish I could be like that, myself.’’ Thus, I believe it is the chronotope, as Bakhtin has described it, that enables the police procedural genre’s success.

Adding to the realism of gritty police procedural life, McBain stuffs an endless supply of details into every novel, from strange anecdotes about incidental characters to dates, times, and days of the week. Like a cop marking down the details in his reports, the author notes the time and date of almost every event in the series. For example, almost every chapter in Let’s Hear it for the Deaf Man , published in 1973, begins with a direct mention of day and time. Chapter six begins with, ‘‘At tenminutes to one on Wednesday afternoon’’ (67). However, as Dove notes, although these passage-of-time details ‘‘sound so precise and reliable’’ (30), they often fail to mesh with the real life calendar.

McBain sometimes organizes the events of a novel around a fictitious year, and sometimes follows an accurate calendar but doesnot allow certain events to progress at the same realistic rate.The most famous example is the character Meyer Meyer, whose age throughout the entire series remains thirty-seven (Dove 33). This ‘‘Elastic Calendar’’ as Dove calls it allows the author to give the illusion of high realism while not sacrificing his own narrative plans for maintaining the drama and interest of the novels.

Bakhtin’s discussion of the ‘‘biographical life’’ and ‘‘biographical time’’ of the adventure novel (89) can be connected to Dove’s discussion of both, in his book. Dove writes of two kinds of liberties that McBain takes with time—biographical time (such as the progressive ages of characters) and calendar
time (the actual dates and times and years).

Bakhtin’s ‘‘biographical life’’ here corresponds to Dove’s biographical time, and ‘‘biographical time’’ corresponds to what Dove refers to as calendar time. Bakhtin comments that the Greek adventure story ‘‘lacks any natural, everyday cyclicity’’ and contains ‘‘no indications of historical time, no identifying traces of the era’’ (91). In contrast, the police procedural story offers almost too many indications of historical time and cyclicity. Yet its biographical time sometimes does correspond to the unreferenced time of the adventure story, in which actions lie outside the sequences of normal time (Bakhtin 91).

According to Bakhtin, the sequence of time ‘‘generates rules and defines the measure of a man’’ (91).
He continues, In this kind of time, nothing changes: the world remains as it was, the biographical life of the heroes does not change, people do not even age. This empty time leaves no traces anywhere, no indications of its passing. (91)

But even when time seems to stand still for some of the characters in the 87th Precinct series, such as Detective Carella’s children or Detective Meyer, time is not empty. Things happen to them and around them—including socio-political events specific to historical time and place.

For example, in Let’s Hear it for the Deaf Man, the early 1970s public distrust of cops and stereotypes
48 Journal of American & Comparative Cultures about ‘‘hippies’’ are examined extensively by both the
author and the character, Steve Carella. When Carella, in the course of an investigation, walks into a room full of hippies, McBain writes with his typical brand of sardonic humour:

All of the patrons were young. The girls were wearing blue jeans and long hair. The boys were bearded. In terms of police investigation, this was awkward. It meant they could be (a) hippies, (b) college students, (c) anarchists, (d) prophets, (e) all of the foregoing. To many police officers, of course, long hair or a beard (or both) automatically meant that any person daring to look like that was guilty of (a) possession of marijuana, (b) intent to sell heroin, (c) violation of the Sullivan Act, (d) fornication with livestock, (e) corrupting the morals of a minor, (f) conspiracy, (g) treason, (h) all of the foregoing.

Carella wished he had a nickel for every clean-shaven, crew-cutted kid he had arrested for murdering his own brother. On the other hand, he was a police officer and he knew that the moment he showed his badge in this place, these long- haired youngsters would automatically assume he was guilty of (a) fascism, (b) brutality, (c) drinking beer and belching, (d) fornication with livestock, (e) harassment, (f) all of the foregoing.

Some days, it was very difficult to earn a living. (57) When Carella enters the room and asks if anyone can identify the man who was murdered, two boys immediately ask, ‘‘When?’’ and ‘‘Where?’’ (57). In this passage, a cultural moment specific to the time and place has occurred, and yet at the same time, it addresses the very universal and untime-specific cliches of youth-cop animosity and cop as masculine worker just trying to earn a living. Here, time, space, fiction, and realism have fused together with societal commentary and a cultural image of man. This very fusion of elements leads Dove to believe that nothing socio-political is ever directly addressed in the series, when in fact the author presents a significant amount of such commentary throughout the novels.

Four more pages of nothing but socio-political commentary follow this passage,while Carella further contemplates unjust stereotyping as well as the oppression of The City’s racial and ethnic minorities.

In these pages, it is clear that Dove could not be more mistaken in his labeling of the series as apolitical. Here, McBain directly discusses the prejudices and poverty that plague the American city. ‘‘It is easy to turn prejudice inside out,’’ he writes: within every fat oppressor, there lurks a skinny victim waiting to be released. The hippies...came seeking peace and talking love, and were greeted with the same fear, suspicion, hostility, and prejudice that had greeted the Puerto Ricans upon their arrival. In this case, however, it was the Puerto Ricans themselves who were doing the hating—you cannot teach people a way of life, and then expect them to put it conveniently aside. You cannot force them intoa sewer and then expect them to understand why the sons and daughters of successful Americans are voluntarily seeking residence in that very same sewer. (61-62)

In this novel, McBain discusses the cyclical nature of prejudice, poverty, and crime. This fusion of universal problems of the urban city with the specific day-to-day life and times of the police procedural
Detective is exactly what keeps readers coming back to the series. Similar instances in other novels abound, such as a passage in Sadie When She Died, in which Detective Bert Kling insists, I know I’m not a pig. I’m a fairly decent human being trying to do his job. And sometimes my job involves getting into situations that are distasteful to me. You think I like going onto a college campus and breaking up a protest by kids who don’t want to die in a stupid war? But I’m also supposed to see that they don’t burn down the administration building. So how do I convince them that keeping law and order, which is my job, is not the same as suppression? It gets difficult some- times. (91)

In the same novel, Carella faces the difficulty of being a father and a career-driven man at the same time. McBain writes that he rushed through the not-unpleasant task of choosing a doll for his daughter, April, in order to get to Police Head- quarters on High Street a full half hour before he was to meet a suspect (41). As Kling, Carella, and the other detectives constantly remind themselves and are reminded by the events and situations that surround them, policemen are workers who are expected to conform to the dictates of their job. Yet they are also men, with individual political beliefs that change and develop along with the complex world of The City.

The fact that time can stand still for some characters, or follow an imaginary calendar for some and are alone for others, adds credibility to the theory of the police procedural chronotope as a never-ending fusion of all-modern-time and all-cities. On such a broad yet specific landscape, McBain is able to make generalized comments on masculinity as it relates to urban culture in the twentieth century.

Genre and Masculinity 49

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