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

From: eddie hermanson (
Date: 06 Sep 2000

okay i need to jump in here. if we are going to write fiction with any sincerity to the language of the street we need not be afraid to use harsh language. what, are we going to lie about how folks communicate with one another? you cite ellroy's language as being offensive. is the use of the words nigger or spick offensive to you?? i am a white dude and every time i walk down to the liquor store the local youth greets me with "wassup nigger? you drinkin' a 40 tonight?" is it offensive when donald goines uses the word nigger? language changes, meanings change. what i find offensive is charles willeford, for example. in pick up and wild wives all the women are neurotic, drug/alchohol addled whores who are un able to take care of themselves. they need some man to take care of them. and whats up with shark infested custard? betting on who can get the chick, all that. i find that offensive. not the language but the ideas. i had an idea in my head but lost the train of thought. i shouldn't be so harsh on chas willeford...i guess he's writing it as he sees it..

>From: (Mark Sullivan)
>Subject: RE: RARA-AVIS: Re: Those were the days (was Creationism vs.
>Evolution (was Once more...)
>Date: Sat, 2 Sep 2000 01:03:30 -0400 (EDT)
>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.
>"If anything, the more things change, the more they remain the same in
>terms of language, un-correct depictions of women and minorities and the
>like. Hell, just look at the RICO suit filed against the LAPD."
>Agreed, much of the LAPD seems to hold many of the same views, but the
>public perception of those attitudes is very different. Which makes it
>a fascinating issue to explore. There's a complexity of attitudes (and
>questions about being open about or hiding those attitudes) that offers
>numerous possibilites for characters and plot. As a matter of fact,
>isn't this the issue Pelecanos means to explore in his next book?
>"Chandler didn't write about those attitudes in stronger terms 'cause he
>just couldn't get away with it back then. Even so, Marlowe could use the
>racial epithets with the best of 'em."
>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
>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.
>Now I thought the world of the LA Quartet, but this tendency really
>started to annoy me in American Tabloid. I am even willing to admit
>that I may be letting his obnoxious public persona flavor some of my
>disillusionment. I know I won't go to any more of his signings, but I
>wonder if I will actually skip his next book. Wasn't it Garcia Marquez
>who said he always swore he wouldn't read the next Borges because of the
>author's right wing politics, but when the book actually came out, he
>couldn't help himself, since Borges was such a good writer?
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