RARA-AVIS: Re: Sitting in the breaches, looking at the peaches...

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@colba.net)
Date: 04 Sep 2000

Anthony wrote:

>A definition can't go so far from the original that the definitive works no
>longer fit within the genre. When that occurs you're not talking about the
>same genre any more.

But that's my point. Hardboiled now is not necessarily hardboiled then. But maybe it's still hard-boiled, once you get past the outer trappings. Because I still contend that hard-boiled is mostly about attitude and feeling and tone, and if that's the case, then the definition will always be a bit elastic. And like an elastic it can stretch, but will return to its original shape. The trick is not to stretch it until it breaks.

Or, we could leave it on the shelf,and make the definition so rigid that nobody can touch it without fear of it shattering. Me, I think the genre is more robust and tougher than that.

What can I say? I'm a lumper, you're a splitter. (Thanks, Dr. Bob)

>Hammett and Chandler (among others) set the definition
>and newer works don't redefine that as much as they interpret it ...

Ah, but if you had defined hard-boiled back then as what Hammett or, say, Whitfield wrote, then perhaps Chandler wouldn't have qualified. After all, Hammett had pretty much stopped writing by the time Chandler started. Maybe there were a bunch of hidebound traditionalists in 1935 or 1942 having this same argument, saying that this upstart Chandler wasn't hardboiled, because he didn't write like Hammett did. Too flowery, all these similes and metaphors, you know. But somehow, back then, the definition stretched to include Chandler. So does that mean Chandler isn't really hard-boiled because he he didn't fit whatever the definition was in 1928 or something?

>A genre is alive as long as
>someone's reading it not whether or not someone is still writing it.

Well, we'll have to disagree on that one. If nobody's writing in a genre anymore, that means it's probably not very popular anymore, or has perhaps lost its relevancy. And is therefore not very accessible, save perhaps for academics and other obsessives. You can read all the ancient languages you want, but that doesn't mean they're living languages. At best, they're on life support.

>So what if a work is excluded from being labeled as hard-boiled. It doesn't
>cease to exist does it? No, it's still there to be enjoyed. Everything
>doesn't have to be labeled "hard-boiled" to be good. You water it down too
>much and you stretch the genre to the point of meaninglessness.

Obviously, whether something is good or not has little to do with its being hard-boiled. And vice-versa. And I'm not suggesting we water down the genre. But I don't think we should limit the genre to some pre-set, simplistic, rigid formula that depends on relatively minor details such as weaponry or technology or style of dress or gender or setting or whatever, that ignores the attitude that lies at the very heart of the genre. It wasn't the Continental Op's plots or Race Williams' guns that necessarily made those stories stand out, after all -- it was their attitude, something to do with cynicism and integrity and self-reliance and toughness and a certain unflinching honesty, a willingness to impose their own moral vision on a less-than-perfect world, tempered with a little skeptical idealism.

I still contend that Grafton's Kinsey Millhone is a continuation (a conscious one, in fact) of that tradition. Whether she does, in fact, continue the tradition or not, is a topic I think is worthy of discussion on this list.

Certainly, it would make for a hell of a lot more fascinating topic than my spelling, anyway.


Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.colba.net/~kvnsmith/thrillingdetective/
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