Sherlock Holmes Reloaded

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Apologies again for the long absence especially to regular readers and PKD-Day 3 attendees. This has indeed been a rather difficult time both on personal and professional fronts. Today's post is an attempt to make up for the silence and also to record the memories of a singularly entertaining conference. I mean the The Afterlives of Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes conference held in the University of Hull today. I went despite the intense stress of this week's workload and after literally writing my 'paper' and preparing my presentation in a single evening!

A brief outline of the papers as culled from my notes. For me the conference started with papers on Laurie King's Mary Russell stories – for the uninitiated, in these pastiche novels Sherlock Holmes gets married to Russell, who is a formidable detective in her own right. The discussion ranged from cross-dressing, feminist perspectives to the nature of Holmes pastiches. Sabine Vanacker's paper, while providing learned perspectives on various other aspects, particularly interested me with the analysis of the Holmes stories as taking place in a repeated presence. Sabine also pointed to the chronological anomaly in the Holmes stories and how Carole Nelson Douglas and King establish a clearer chronological relationship in their Holmes pastiches. The best part of her paper, for me, was the description of Holmes's stories as a virtual palimpsest of texts and context. Palimpsest --- that's how I would describe gameplay.

I also particularly liked Annushka Donin's first-time paper on metafiction in the Holmes and Poirot novels. She established a network of textual relations through a comparative analysis and drew out interesting parallels. This is apparently Annoushka's undergraduate work being developed here – I wish I had even one such undergrad in my seminars. She seems to be on her way to engage with more theoretical perspectives and I was obviously thinking of post-structuralist viewpoints.

All the papers that I heard were great. M. Lee Alexander made an interesting case about detective figures being 'wounded' or disabled in some way or other. She provided a long list (to which I added Max Payne) but surprisingly, all of the names on the list were male! Patricia Pulham and Jennifer Palmer both looked at aspects of historicising fiction. Patricia discussed Julian Barnes's novel on Doyle's one and only attempt at detection – I must read it. In my own panel, Harvey O'Brien entertainingly presented on the variety of filmic responses to Sherlock Holmes including 'The Great Mouse Detective' and the Christopher Plummer Sherlock Holmes ('Murder by Decree'). The other panelist, Sally Widdowson, interestingly explored the link between Sidney Paget's Sherlock Holmes illustrations and modern graphic novels such as the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Very interesting, all said and done.

What I missed though was more of a chance to socialise and chat. Though I did make up for it by joining some other presenters on a stroll through Hull. Finally, like all the conferences that I have been to recently, this one ran simultaneous panels and I missed some of the papers that I was keen on listening to. Bran Nicol's paper on Bayard, Eco and conjecture seems really interesting from his abstract and on talking to him after my session (which he chaired). Interestingly, he too describes the structure of the Holmes novels as 'rhizomatic'.

My own paper did what I expecteed it to do – I felt that it opened up Sherlock Holmes scholarship in different aspects and developed on the connection between the multiplicity of narratives and videogames. One of the questions that I was asked was how I would make a Sherlock Holmes videogame. A storyboard is already building up within the recesses of my head and it certainly isn't elementary.

Anyway, here's my abstract:

Sherlock Holmes never faced his final problem. Just as he re-emerged from the Reichenbach Falls after being 'killed off' by his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes has lived on in a multiplicity narratives ranging from the new Holmes tales told by the likes of Anthony Burgess to adventures on the Holodeck of the starship Enterprise. It is this multiplicity combined with that makes the Holmes tales key predecessors of more recent forms of storytelling, especially the story in videogames. The videogame player after 'dying' in an attempt to 'complete' the multitelic narrative, does a Sherlock Holmes and replays his existence in a different way. The Holmes stories can be viewed as proto-videogames by analysing them side by side with Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (referred to as The Awakened hereonwards), a videogame based Holmes investigates an as-yet-unsolved mystery. Created in the adventure game genre, albeit with attempts to include different visual points-of-view, The Awakened, is characterised by a multitelic structure; it also emphasises its multiplicity by placing Holmes in the Lovecraftian world of the Cthulhu mythos.

Theorists of so-called New Media have argued for multiplicity as being a key factor in determining the novelty of hypertexts, interactive fiction and videogames. However, this conception can be challenged by a closer look at earlier forms of multiple narratives such as the Holmes stories. Analysed in comparison to The Awakened, the Sherlock Holmes stories as told over the last century, emerge as far more multiple than was earlier assumed and reveal greater complexities of authorship, plot and telos. To do so, this paper will engage with Gilles Deleuze's concept of multiplicity, which makes it possible to view the stories as actualisations of a mesh of virtual narratives, where Holmes continually emerges from his various endings only to start again – almost as if he plays a videogame.

Oh yes, I called my paper 'Sherlock Holmes Reloaded'.

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