Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Those were the days (was Creationism vs.Evolution (was Once more...)

From: Jess Nevins (
Date: 02 Sep 2000

Mark Sullivan wrote:

> Tribe wrote:
> "I'm certainly not gonna defend Ellroy's use of language and the like.
> It bugs some readers and others like his stuff notwithstanding (count me
> among the later). But Mark, I'm sure you're not saying that because
> things weren't kosher back then, they shouldn't be written about."
> You're right, I'm not saying that. My problem with Ellroy is not his
> use of epithets, but his uncritical use of them (uncritical as in
> simplistic; I'm not saying he should automatically criticize any use of
> harsh words; casual dismissal is as uncritical as casual acceptance).
> By setting his books in a time when those words and attitudes were more
> acceptable, often endorsed, and insisting he is using the words simply
> for temporal verisimilitude, Ellroy is sidestepping the issues of
> writing and using those words in the 1990s. Authors like Lansdale use
> the "N" word fairly often, but are aware of its shadings when coming
> from different mouths.

What, *exactly*, would you like Ellroy to do differently? Should realism in dialogue be sacrificed to avoid offending modern sensibilities?

There is no issue of writing and using those words in the 1990s--not if you're

going to remain faithful to the time and place your writing is set in. To presume otherwise is to rip the spine out of history, and that's a far worse sin than portraying race hate and prejudice faithfully.

> I agree with this, too. Although some of Chandler/Marlowe's comments
> bother me, I can understand them in context and set them aside.
> Chandler was a man of his time. However, Ellroy is also a man of his
> time and that time is now. He is not a writer of the '50s using those
> words, but a man of the '90s, choosing to write about the '50s, so he
> can glibly use those words and dance away whenever he is criticized for
> it.

Glibly? He's portraying a historical time and place with accuracy. What's glib about that?

> However, I am not saying '90s values should be imposed upon the past if
> that is the setting. I think Mosley walks that line very carefully (of
> course, his main theme revolves around questions of changes in racial
> treatment so he engages the questions I think Ellroy ducks). All I'm
> saying is that I've come to question why Ellroy's books are always set
> in the past; it makes me wonder if he might not think of it as a golden
> age of sorts.

Do you have any evidence for this idea other than a dislike of Ellroy? Ellroy prefers a time period to write in. That hardly means that he thinks of it as a "golden age of sorts," it just means that he finds it more interesting to write in that era.

Do you think, somehow, that his writing would be better if he -avoided- using that language?


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