RARA-AVIS: Re: Why are you here?

From: Juri Nummelin ( jurnum@utu.fi)
Date: 27 Jan 2000

On Wed, 26 Jan 2000, Kevin Burton Smith wrote:

> As for why hard-boiled, well, that's another story. As someone else
> said, it has something to do with attitude, a way of looking at the
> world with your eyes wide open. Not just to the nastiness, because
> that just becomes an empty macho pissing contest, but to the
> possibilities, as well. Not to turn too Pollyanna here, or anything,
> but I've always found the best hard-boiled fiction always offers a
> slight glimmer of hope, even as the characters slide closer and
> closer towards doom, even if it's merely one doomed man or woman
> making an ultimately futile and useless, although possibly heroic,
> gesture, be it Cody yelling "Top of the world, Ma!" or Spade turning
> over Brigid.

Like Chandler said, the text must offer a glimpse of hope. (He put it more nicely than I did...) But for me, hardboiled literature presents the capitalist society stripped bare, and barer it is, more effective it gets, for example in Richard Stark. Or in Richard Deming's "Hit and Run" (1960), in which this woman hires a P.I. to kill her man and then keeps the body in the bathtub with ice and chops the ice for the drinks! Or in James M. Cain. These examples show the people trying to survive. The society does nothing to encourage or help them, so there's only crime. This is what makes me read hardboiled: an effective view of how the society works.

There is some fascination in reading about people who seem to have no hope. They are put against the wall and they try to do something about it and don't always succeed. The communication in these books is always about something else than normal relationships, or rather: the normal relationships have been replaced by those that prevent people to have normal relationships. Greed. Lust. Anger. Hate. And the communication has to happen with guns, fists, deception. It's not the animal in us, it's the animal in the society. And this is why I like hardboiled literature - it portrays people more truthfully than the classical mystery tradition in which a man is an animal, calculating but nevertheless an animal. This might seem like a contradiction with the usual attitude about HB, but I'm behind my words.

And if there's only hint of this in any classical mystery novel, I'm more than willing to read it. For example, I've always liked Francis Iles, in whose books the people don't murder because they like it and can do it, but because they have no choice.

And I like Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, but only because of their adventure-like feeling.

Juri jurnum@utu.fi

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