“The Whole Thing Is a Merry-go-round”

The Mechanism of Circularity in Horace McCoy’s “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”





Horace McCoy, Hollywood novel, society of the spectacle, capitalism, hardboiled, Great Depression


Anticipating the tone and the tropes of the classic Hollywood novels, Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, published in 1935, investigated the condition of marginality of Hollywood’s ‘outsiders’ along with the destruction of their dream. Set during the Great Depression, McCoy’s novel portrayed not only the valuable psychological role of Hollywood in reassuring a demoralized nation but also its dynamic of exploitation and pipedreams, aligning itself with the broader debunking strategy of the hardboiled novel in confronting the contradictions of New Deal Liberalism. McCoy’s fictional account of dance marathons—with their endless circular movement—portrays the commercial exploitation of tawdry events which cruelly exploit young people and that becomes a metaphor or a parody of the Hollywood dream factory.

Against the post-Marxist theoretical background of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, this essay tries to highlight and question a mechanism of circularity that seems to be rooted in the novel’s narrative function. In particular, by considering Slavoj Žižek’s interpretation of Lacanian desire and drive, I stress the correspondence between the circular movement of the drive and the self-regenerating circulation of capital that the Slovenian philosopher proposed in The Parallax View (2006). Starting from this correspondence, my analysis of the novel aims to uncover its mimetic apparatus with regard to the representation of circularity which affects the whole narration.


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