THIS ARTICLE EXAMINES the role that the case history plays in distinguishing criminal from noncriminal. It focuses on a remarkable moment in the development of the criminal case history: the ambitious but short-lived series Außenseiter der Gesellschaft—die Verbrechen der Gegenwart (Outsiders of Society—the Crimes of Today), published in Germany in 1924-25. In a project without precedent in German literature, the series enlisted the talents of some of Germany's and Austria's most important novelists and journalists to write book-length studies of recent sensational criminal cases. The topics covered in the series ranged widely,from the confidence schemes of the impostor who called himself Freiherr von Egloffstein, to the Hitler-Ludendorff trial, to the career of the serial killer Fritz Haarmann. Though it existed for only a little over one year, the Outsiders series—which ultimately ran to fourteen volumes—occupies a crucial role in documenting the ways in which criminality was understood in Weimar Germany. Aside from the presence of an all-star cast of writers, the significance of the Outsiders series lies in its rethinking and reworking the aims and possibilities of the genre of the criminal case history. The series sought to intervene in the tradition of crime narratives (especially the case study as exemplified in the Pitaval, the archive of criminal cases that enjoyed widespread popularity in Europe from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century) in order to question the nature and effects of the genre. If narrative is one of the primary techniques by which the criminal and the noncriminal are distinguished, then the crisis of narration that is a central characteristic of modernist literature would naturally precipitate a crisis of this mechanism of distinction when brought to bear on the discussion of criminals. When the belief in the ability to narrate a life story comes into doubt, the belief in the ability of a narrative to separate criminal from noncriminal and to reconstruct the events that lead to a crime also fall under suspicion. Turning their attention precisely to the relationship that Michel Foucault would later concentrate on—that between the criminal and his examiners—these studies repeatedly show the criminal to be the object of juridical, medical, journalistic, popular, and literary attention. The diverse group of contributors to the series reflects the hybrid nature of this crossover project, which brings a combination of reportage, fictional techniques, and scientific analysis to bear on an area that is usually the domain of legal and medical specialists. At the same time, the series incorporates medical texts and trial documents into what often reads like a fictional narrative. This multivalence is precisely what the series aims to attain as it demonstrates the impossibility of clearly locating causality and guilt, seeking instead to map the connections and contradictions between the various discourses that endeavor to make the criminal visible as a distinct and deviant individual. In so doing, it develops a genre that would become increasingly popular over the course of the twentieth century,the nonfiction documentary crime novel.
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Todd Herzog; Crime Stories: Criminal, Society, and the Modernist Case History. Representations 1 November 2002; 80 (1): 34–61. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2002.80.1.34
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