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The Mystery to a Solution

, 512 pages

7 halftones

September 1996



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The Mystery to a Solution

Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story

Winner of the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Comparative Literary Studies from the Modern Language Association

Winner of the Christian Gauss Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society

In The Mystery to a Solution, John Irwin brilliantly examines the deeper significance of the analytical detective genre which Poe created and the meaning of Borges' efforts to "double" the genre's origins one hundred years later. Combining history, literary history, and practical and speculative criticism, Irwin pursues the issues underlying the detective story into areas as various as the history of mathematics, classical mythology, the double-mirror structure of self-consciousness, the anthropology of Evans and Frazer, the structure of chess, the mind-body problem, the etymology of the word labyrinth, and dozens of other topics. Irwin mirrors the aesthetic impact of the genre by creating in his study the dynamics of a detective story—the uncovering of mysteries, the accumulation of evidence, the tracing of clues, and the final solution that ties it all together.

John T. Irwin is Decker Professor of the Humanities at the Johns Hopkins University. A former editor of the Georgia Review, he now edits the series Johns Hopkins: Poetry and Fiction for the Johns Hopkins University Press. His books include Doubling and Incest/Repetition and Revenge, The Heisenberg Variations, and American Hieroglyphics, all available from Johns Hopkins.

"This is a fine book... Irwin has travelled far and profitably, indeed, into the history of chess, into geometry and algebra, into mythology, into alchemy, into the culture of labyrinths, and more besides."

"[Irwin] has probed the labyrinthine depths principally of Poe and Borges, using the analytic tools of Jung, Lacan, and Derrida, and a score of other psychological interpreters of fiction... The result is dazzling."

"[A] learned, capacious, and ultimately amazing book."

"John Irwin has written another wonderful book."

"A masterful blend of literary criticism, philosophy, game theory, classical learning, the history of science, and the occult."