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Deceive, Inveigle, Obfuscate: Post-Structuralism and the Staggered Retirement of Fox Mulder

Smith, Adam James ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3938-4836 (2020) Deceive, Inveigle, Obfuscate: Post-Structuralism and the Staggered Retirement of Fox Mulder. In: Szanter, Ashley, (ed.) Policing the Monstrous: Essays on the Supernatural Crime Procedural. McFarland, pp. 9-28

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Adam J Smith - Post-structuralism and The X-Files FULL DRAFT.docx - Accepted Version


In 1996 Charles Taylor wrote that The X-Files reveals a world in which “the curtain of what we except as reality seems to have torn, allowing Mulder and Scully to search for meanings usually obscured.” Viewed two decades on we see that our intrepid agents were never successful in firmly establishing those meanings. It is a staggering achievement that after 201 episodes and two feature films so much remains unexplained. Just as the shadowy groups they imagined inside the corridors of institutional power, the show’s writers too managed to ‘deny all knowledge.’ Like Mulder and Scully we are left wanting to believe, no assurance that our conspiracy theories will ever be confirmed or denied. Exchanging confirmed and canonical answers for the invitation to imagine, The X-files is, in a sense, sublime.

Adapting a methodology from Jacque Derrida’s ‘Structure, sign and play in the discourse of the human sciences’ this chapter will foreground the post-structuralist impulses at work within The X-Files. The only alien universe unveiled is a decentred one, Mulder’s two decade enlightenment embodying the post-modern revelation that there is no truth. It will argue that it is the explosive (and implosive) consequences of locating this sustained post-structuralist project within the generic parameters of the procedural drama that accounts for both the initial success of the show and its eventual alienation of the audiences.

It will track the correlation between Mulder’s gradual disassociation from the FBI (the ultimate signifier of institutional knowledge and power) and his character’s increasing inability to function within the generic confines of the procedural drama. As he approaches enlightenment Mulder is rendered redundant, transcending a format designed to regularly resolve with the revelation of truth. As such, he vanishes.

Fascinatingly, when X-Files returned in 2016 the reunion of Mulder and Scully precipitation serious generic instability. Though the subversion of genre was far from a new experiment within The X-Files, for the first time the base-genre was impossible to discern. The assumptions and expectations of the procedural drama contorted around David Duchovny’s older Mulder, his outlook now inescapably antithetical to the genre in which he was born.

Item Type: Book Section
Status: Published
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
School/Department: School of Humanities
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/3864

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