American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


The Stranger in the Dark: The Ethics of Levinasian-Derridean Hospitality in Noir

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/Popular Culture

First Advisor

Donald Callen


The meaning of what identifies film noir from other stories has plagued scholars of literature and film for decades. Some argue that film noir existed for a set period of time due to particular cultural, historical, and aesthetic reasons and that all similar narratives today represent just pale copies of copies, while others present noir as distinct stages. Few examine a range of these cultural texts to find the threads that bind them together and continue to make these dark tales of urban crime interesting to audiences over fifty years after they began. The tools and contexts alone do not rest at the heart of what defines noir. Noir, this genre-like cycle, is not the end in and of itself but rather the cultural and philosophical questions behind the grouping provides the real impetus to study. On one hand, James Naremore in his book More Than Night refers to the need to explore the ideological center of noir. On the other hand, Jacques Derrida requests in Of Hospitality further analysis of ethics based on narratives that problematize binaries such as citizen/foreigner, master/stranger, and friend/enemy. Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas' ethics establish a new critical framework that describes the world of noir and its protagonists in valuable ways. Discourses of ethics as responsibility to the other and questions of hospitality identify the dark core of noir from the early hard-boiled novels, like Chandler's The Big Sleep, to the losers of the Coen's The Big Lebowski, the protagonist's struggles for identity in Soderbergh's The Limey, and to the growth of the noir in television series such as Rob Thomas' Veronica Mars. These theorist/philosophers expand the general understanding of our role in a difficult world, and their observations about relations between individuals and between individuals and their world give a new way of examining the actions and motivations of noir protagonists. Derrida and Levinas put forth critical perspectives that allow for these sorts of quests and threats while also allowing for an agent's actions to fall outside the traditional ethical rules based on a set of practical principles, rules, or codes.