American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

An Uncertain Poetics of the Intoxicated Narrative: Drugs, Detection, Denouement

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Ellen Berry

Second Advisor

Supriya Chaudhuri (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Don Callen (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Phil Dickinson


This dissertation attempts to examine how certain modes of intoxication touch, affect, transform and underlie the movement of narrative, which has been for the longest time our primary mode of ordering reality. Operating somewhat speculatively, this study contends that that most, if not all, narratives either function in an intoxicated manner, or desire the operations of intoxication. The articulation and untangling of the "intoxicated narrative" as I have termed it, is the central impulse of this dissertation, which aims at unravelling the constant need for and presence of intoxication that narratives carry in their very grain.

To do this, I have examined what I tentatively call narratives of detection, i.e., narratives that unfold roughly in the manner of detective fiction, which I have posited as the dominant genre of modernity. These narratives — dating from the early 19th century to the early 21st — usually (though not always) include the figure of a detective or detective-substitute, operate causally and teleologically, and are apparently set within a framework of strict logic and rationality. At the same time, though, these narratives frequently destabilize, derail and subvert their own logical operations. I connect this derailment to the obscure presence of intoxication (in various forms) that inflects them constantly, because from its very inception, detective fiction appears to have had a subtext of intoxication coursing through its veins. To this end, I have explored the different ways in which intoxication appears in these otherwise reason-dominated narratives, be it as a thematic element in the story, or as a reader's intoxication with text, or the critic's intoxication with the act of analysis. Most importantly, this project attempts to liberate the glimmerings of intoxication that the narrative process itself is subject to, and to trace a connection between the intoxicated narrative and the increasingly databasal (i.e., non-narratival) logic of the internet. Is the internet the extreme logical conclusion these intoxicated narratives of detection have been wending their way towards? And is this indeed the reason these narratives have become the underlying structural obsession of postmodernity? These are some of the questions this project hesitantly seeks to locate answers to.