Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Once more into the breech...

From: Doug Bassett (
Date: 31 Aug 2000

--- "a.n.smith" <> wrote:
> I return to the fray with comments on this:
> > I'm pretty sure most people on rara-avis don't
> listen
> > to heavy metal music :) -- but that might be a
> better
> > fit. The difference, to state
> > it briefly, is that one of them (Motorhead) is an
> > authentic metal band, while the other is a pop
> band
> > faking it the metal arena. One of them believes in
> > their aesthetic, while the other is wrapping the
> > aesthetic around them in an attempt, basically, to
> > sell records.
> As one of those who does listen to metal (more in
> younger days than now), it
> tends to me that looking at music as an analogy for
> what happens is
> hard-boiled literature brings up something about the
> author of the post.

Sadly, yes, it probably does. :) But I do think you can learn things about one art form by comparing it to the other. At least, interesting things sometimes call attention to themselves.

> These are heavy, solid lines being drawn here, as
> "authentic" comes up in
> the mix. But is anything a purely original genre or
> style of music? They
> have historical backgrounds or mixing, matching,
> cutting and pasting. And
> eventually, one can take aspects of hard-boiled
> writing and aspects of
> different musical genres and make a blend

Yes, true, fair enough, all genres have their outside influences, their historical backgrounds and marginal cases, etc. I was speaking more in general terms than specific cases. That said, I really do tend to see the
"artistic" world as a place where certain traditions or aesthetics are practiced. So I basically see a given author or book as being "within" a tradition or working outside of one. That's not a value judgement, necessarily: it just gives me a place to hang my hat.

Works for me, anyhow.

The blending moves things
> forward. Trying to hold
> onto the purity of a genre or musical style brings
> to mind the image of
> someone trying to fight off a tidal wave with a
> tennis racket.

Weeellll...I think I disagree with this. Yeah, a tradition should be open to outside influences, but when you start blending things too much, you come up with something different. It might be great -- but it's just not the same thing. "Moving forward", after all, is not an unmitigated good: you might move yourself right out of the genre.

I'm actually not as conservative as I probably sound
--I like a lot of different authors for a lot of different reasons. In fact, in some way I think I'm rather easy to please -- because I don't think everything that's good has to be hardboiled.

> Hard-boiled writing isn't as new a thing as it was
> when the pulp writers
> launched the whole thing (and can we really say
> Hammett wasn't doing it for
> money? That the aesthetic was less pure because he
> was? Stretch it out
> through time--Chandler, Himes, Ross Macdonald,
> Elmore Leonard--and ask the
> same question).

Hmmm. Well, I guess I'd say that my ideas only really come into play once a tradition becomes aware of itself *as* a tradition, so that would exclude the early trailblazers like Hammett.

By the way, I was a little flip about the "making money" comment -- wasn't it Dr. Johnson who said only a dunce doesn't write for money? -- but there certainly are authors and books that seem to get published only because they're capitalizing on a previous writer's success (the many Parker imitators that came out in the Eighties/early Nineties; the current glut of female private eyes). Really, I had those guys in mind.

> Not authoritative, of course. Just some thoughts.
> The continued (and
> seemingly endless) search for a concrete definition
> of the hard-boiled
> amuses me.

Well, I do think about these things a lot, though I really do try to restrain myself here. Don't want to come off like the drunk crackpot in the back of the bar. :) Like I said, I think the process of definition is important, even if nobody ever comes to an authoritative solution.


===== Doug Bassett

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