Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Creationism vs. Evolution (was Once more...)

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 01 Sep 2000

The recent discussion of Hammett's relationship to the hardboiled genre interests me. Depending upon your position, he was either breaking all of the old rules of mysteries or creating a whole new set. To paraphrase Chandler, Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people who commit it for a reason . . .

And whatever those rules ultimately are (must wear a fedora, feature a dangerous woman, a gunfight, a dead body, etc), if they become ironclad, do what the cops in our books always say, Freeze!, they straitjacket, then strangle a genre. Let me continue with the music metaphors we've been using of late: when jazz or blues or rock becomes exclusionary, as intent upon keeping people out as on allowing people in, it becomes an archival pursuit, more interested in replicating the style than in promoting the spirit. To put it simply, it becomes more about re-creating than creating.

This is one of the reasons I'm skeptical of most period hardboiled. It looks back nostalgically to an earlier era the author believes was more suited to the genre. And in my mind, nostalgia is based upon a sentimentality that tends to undercut hardboiled. It adds distance to a genre built on immediacy.

Our world is different, so it seems obvious that whatever hardboiled is, it would have to change in order to remain hardboiled in changed times. I'm a lot more interested in authors who explore what it means to be hardboiled in their own time (whether the '20s, '30s, . . . '90s or
'00s) than I am in those who struggle to impose an earlier model upon a later era.

To paraphrase Woody Allen, A shark's got to move forward or die, do we want a dead shark?


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