RARA-AVIS: Re: Something Nasty

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@colba.net)
Date: 08 Sep 2000

I said:

> > Doesn't Marlowe at one point say something like "He snarled and
> > called me something nasty." Would that sentence really have been
> > better if Chandler had written: "He called me a motherfucking
> > asshole."

Chandler's point and mine (and I think I did have one) was that whatever the guy said offended the detective. The point wasn't so much what was said, but how Marlowe felt about it. As Marianne put it, "Marlowe feels contempt for the man's attitude and discounts his statement for that reason."

After all, Marlowe and Chandler considered themselves gentlemen, above such vulgarity. Even if it "isn't a game for knights."

Saying the actual words (and it might have been as mild as bastard or something) adds nothing. Were he writing the same sentence today, would Chandler have used the actual words, as Jess contends? I don't think so.

Certainly, as far as I can remember, in his personal correspondence, far, far away from any editorial interference, Chandler rarely, if ever, relied on vulgarity.

And, of course, I'm not even sure it was Chandler who wrote that half-remembered sentence fragment. Maybe it was Ross Macdonald...

Of course, as Juri rightly says, "So, it's still the point of whether fiction is good or bad. It's not the words, it's what you make with them."

But words matter too, and which ones we use, in fiction and in real life. I was joking when I lamented that the word "nigger" was becoming devalued. It is still an offensive word, no matter how many times some misguided yahoo rapper or hack comic trying to be "street" uses it, or how many times some white suburban doofus tosses it around his high school. Or even how many times Saint Ellroy drops it into his prose. Don't think so? Next time you feel the word no longer hurts, go call one of your black friends' parents or grandparents
"nigger". Or one of your friends' children. Or some black you don't know. See how well that goes over.

Richard Pryor, who may have helped bring the word out in the open, and make it "safer" for a mainstream audience, at least understood the power and pain of the word. For the most part, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence and a thousand others who made careers off Pryor's material, using all the words but none of the soul, are mere poseurs. Pryor was working through his own pain--these clowns tend to inflict it.

Oh, and Dick, thanks for paying attention. Your comments, particularly on Grafton, were right on. And it's always a pleasure when someone who's actually read the books shares their opinions.


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