Re: RARA-AVIS: Public Acclain & "Masterpeices"/Street 8

From: Keith Alan Deutsch (
Date: 28 Apr 2000

Dear Juri,

I thought your post was interesting. I think Moby Dick was a masterpiece when written, and is a masterpiece today---and I'm not sure that there is another American work that has been written in the same "form." By that, I mean that despite the fact that Moby Dick is generally acknowledged as one of American literature's greatest achievements--I do not believe that it served as a model for any tradition that grew up around it. That is, it still does not fit into any
"canon." (As I understand canon.)

Within the hard boiled/Black Mask canon and tradition, I believe that the Maltese Falcon is a masterpiece. In some ways the Glass Key may be a greater novel, but I do not believe it is a greater example of the hard boiled novel than the Falcon. the plot is perfect, the themes of loyalty (Spade) and disloyalty/subterfuge/greed (just about every other character) are beautifully played out in action and dialogue. The characters are iconographic (Hammett is so sure of himself that even the character's names are wonderfully, ridiculously, and perfectly Iconographic).

Also, every year it seems clear to me that Hammett and Chandler become more deeply embedded in mainstream American literature--without losing their essence as Black Mask hard boiled writers. I also think that Chandler's Farewell My Lovely is a great novel, whether we choose to call it a masterpiece or not.

And certainly Chandler and Hammett are part of the fabric of American Popular culture. And because this is America, popular culture has a way of becoming (often after the French analyze it to death intellectually) comes back to us as "art" and for other reasons, our American popular culture forms seem in time to emerge as part of our mainstream intellectual heritage. Look what happened to Rock & Roll. Dylan's got honorary degrees from Princeton, one of Frances highest artistic honors
(forgot the name of the honor) etc., etc.

I liked much of what you said, but I think you err by implication when you say
"they're still popular culture and not masterpieces. I suggested that Chandler and Hammett probably each wrote "a masterpiece of popular culture" and that American popular culture tends to become mainstream, particularly after it is acclaimed by the rest of the world--that probably doesn't know about or care whether Americans consider our own works mere popular entertainments, or great artistic achievements.

Juri Nummelin wrote:

> ....If something is considered a masterpiece, it just means that the literary
> paradigms are such that some work of literature can be taken in the literary
> canon. If Melville's "Moby Dick" was considered overwritten and strange at the
> time of its publishing, it was because it couldn't fit into the literary canon of
> the time.....
> ....I haven't seen that any hardboiled piece of literature, be it
> Chandler or Richard Stark, has been taken into the literary canon. They are still
> popular literature and not masterpieces. ....

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