Butor on Detective Stories

“The detective is a true son of the murderer Oedipus, not only because he solves a riddle, but also because he kills the man to whom he owes his title, without whom he would not exist in that capacity (without crimes, without mysterious crimes, what would he be?) because this murder was foretold for him from the day of his birth or, if you prefer, because it is inherent in his nature, through it alone he fulfills himself and attains the highest power.”

Butor, Michel. L’Emploi du Temps (1957). Translated as Passing Time by Jean Stewart. John Calder, 1965, p.145.

And so we both maintained a heavy silence which our sparse words did not infringe, as we listened to him pointing out that in detective fiction the story goes against the stream, beginning with the crime, the climax of all the dramatic events which the detective has to rediscover gradually, and that this is in many respects more natural than a narrative proceeding without a backward look, where the first day of the story is followed by the second and then by subsequent days in their calendar order, as I myself at that time had been describing my October experiences; in detective fiction the narrative gradually explores events anterior to the event with which it begins, and this, though it may disconcert some readers, is quite natural, since obviously in real life it is only after having met somebody that we take an interest in his previous actions, and only too often it is not until some disaster has struck our lives that we wake up enough to trace its origins.

Ibid., p. 167.

Thus each day, evoking other days like harmonics, transforms the appearance of the past, and while certain periods come into the light others, formerly illuminated, tend to grow dim, and to lie silent and unknown until with the passage of time fresh echoes come to awaken them.

Thus the sequence of former days is only restored to us through a whole host of other days, constantly changing, and every event calls up an echo from other, earlier events which caused it or explain it or correspond to it, every monument, every object, every image sending us back to other periods which we must reawaken in order to recover the lost secret of their power for good or evil, other periods often remote and forgotten, whose density and distance are to be measured not by weeks or months but by centuries, standing out against the dark blurred background of our whole history…

Ibid., p.283