Derridean Blackmail in The Big Sleep: Allegorizing the Unfixable Mirages of Photography, Film and Criticism

Christopher D. Morris


Recent criticism has already shown that the notoriously unanswered plot questions of The Big Sleep elicit serious philosophical issues, including skepticism about the validity of interpretation itself. The film allegorizes the reason for this questioning in what Derrida calls the "blackmail" of photography--its coercive claim to represent objective truth. Blackmail arising from photography is the main plot premise of The Big Sleep, but it serves as a figure for the "postal" world of signs divorced from referents, finally epitomized in thel groundlessness of Marlowe's logic and final conclusions. Parallels are drawn between this Derridean world and Adorno's writings, in the light of Derrida's acknowledgement of their affinity. The phrase "big sleep" is gangster-slang for death, but this essay argues that it also refers to life, understood in the Buddhist sense of the human illusion of a waking or enlightened life.


The Big Sleep; Derrida; Adorno; photography

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