I've been staying out of this discussion, as I have the last
five or six times it's come up, because I don't see the point
in trotting out the same arguments about what "noir" means,
as applied to crime fiction, ad infinitum. But one comment
you made struck me:
> Someone mentioned the use of the Noir "label" as
> marketing tool,this is unfortunate, but is
> indicative of how advanced capitalist society treats
> the arts. It tries to commoditize them like
> everything else. And to a large degree it's been
> successful. The end result is the Walmartization of
> the novel. (And, also, I fear the beginning of the
> end of the third person in the commercial novel.)
This implies that "noir" had some kind of pure meaning that
commerce has somehow vitiated, and that's just wrong.
The fact of the matter is that "noir," as applied to the
mystery, started out (and in fact is still used) as nothing
more than a brand name. Serie Noir was the mystery line of
the French publisher Gallimard. And all a book had to have to
get classified as noir, as far as Gallimard's mystery editor,
Marcel Duhamel, was concerned, was have a dark and sinister
atmosphere. As someone else put it, it had to show that the
world, at least for the characters in that book, was a dark
There was no requirement of "doom," "fate,"
"inexorable forces," or any of that crap. Lots of the books Duhamal published had that, sure, but lots didn't. Hammett, Chandler, Burnett, McBain, even Richard S. Prather, were all published under the Serie Noir logo.
To say that noir means something more than a dark and
sinister atmosphere pervading the story, and that's really
all that the books published, and being published, under the
Serie Noir logo had and have in common, is to say that the
people who coined the term, and applied it to the mystery
genre (and who coined it and applied it for strictly
commerical reasons), used it incorrectly. Frankly, that just
seems ludicrous on its face.
I get tired as hell of all this parsing and nattering about
what the line of demarcation is between
"hard-boiled" and "noir." There IS no line of demarcation. There's stuff that's noir, and stuff that's hard-boiled, and stuff that's both. And the definitions aren't, and never have been, that narrow.
If you want to talk about crime fiction that has a nihilistic
bent in which the character, no matter what he does, is
doomed to a bad end, go ahead. If you want to say that's what
consitutes noir, well I guess nothing I say will convince
you, or anyone else otherwise. But to say that the intrusion
of filthy commerce into the pure world of noir is a recent
and polluting phenomenon is just to ignore the history of the
Let me add that, despite the fact that my only contribution
this month has been to disagree with you, I am very grateful
for your participation on the site and for your insights and
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