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Ruth Mayer (Leibniz Universität Hannover)

Short Bio

Ruth Mayer holds the chair of American Studies at the Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany. She has published in English and in German, focusing on (popular) cultural studies, and on processes of cultural contact, transnationalization, and diasporization with a strong focus on Chinese/American interactions. Her most recent book publication is Serial Fu Manchu: The Chinese Super-Villain and the Spread of Yellow Peril Ideology (Temple UP, 2014). She is a member of the Research Unit "Popular Seriality: Aesthetics and Practice" (Berlin-Hannover-Göttingen), where she is currently directing a project on the cultural productivity of film serials from 1910 to 1940. 


Abstract: "In the Nick of Time? Detective Serials, Temporality, and Contingency Management, 1919-1926" 

In my talk I will investigate the structural and narrative rearrangements of the detective plot in the context of the American film serial of the 1910s, paying particular attention to the genre's 'time politics'. The classical detective story of the nineteenth century invokes the detective as the time keeper and manager of time, dexterously fashioning random facts into temporal sequences of cause and effect. The detective film serial of the 1910s, I argue, has abandoned (or lost grip of) this ideal. Temporal impositions - close calls, last-minute rescue actions, ticking time bombs, and speeding vehicles - gain central significance in this context. The detective is no longer in control in this world, he is routinely getting lost and abducted, drifting along rather than ingeniously conjecturing from a safe distance. The temporality of the detective serial is a temporality of presence, and its office consists in disclosing spontaneous options of action and intuitive modes of coping with the complexity of modernity. In the logic of this development, the detective functions as a representative navigator. The fact that he is more often lost than on top of things, is the point of this narrative format rather than an inherent weakness or shortcoming.