Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Passports, please...

From: Juri Nummelin (
Date: 03 Sep 2001

On Fri, 31 Aug 2001, Kevin Burton Smith wrote:

> And Juri wrote:
> >But Eliot really seems and reads more English/British than American.
> >Chandler is unmistakably American in style and context.
> But does that make him an American writer? Or just a good mimic?
> Would a foreign writer working in an "unmistakably American... style
> and context" therefore automatically become an American writer?

I see your point - one can think just of James Hadley Chase (I assume no one presumes Peter Cheyney was an American). But the conversation is going nowhere - just because Chandler spent his early years in England, does that make him an English writer? This is absurd to me. Eliot was adopted into English culture and he clearly wanted to escape the American practicalism (even though his imagism is of the American root, coming from someone like Ezra Pound). His poems couldn't have been written in the US.

> And if there is some sort of American style, what is it? And how does
> it correspond with such different "unmistakably American" writers
> as,say, Norman Mailer, James Fenimore Cooper, Erica Jong, Mark Twain,
> Anne Tyler, John Updike and Danielle Steele?

One could argue about Cooper and his roots in the European Romantic philosophy, but I'll pass...

> I can see certain themes and issues constantly recurring in a
> society's literature, but an actual literary style?

I was merely thinking about the syntax and vernacular Chandler used. I know he was very British about it, i.e. accurate. I just wanted to say that his speech is

> And likewise, what is an American context? Do you mean setting?

No, I mean the social and historical context, in the sense of cultural studies. The thirties' and fourties' moral climax, its sociological implications, the mood of the era, the speech people use, and so forth. Of course the setting is part of the context (and Chandler's use of Los Angeles is marvellous - no James Hadley Chase could do that), but not everything.

> The only thing Chandler is, truly and unmistakably, is Chandler.

If Chandler, like other writers, is a sum of his experience, then how can he be unmistakably him/herself? In the human experience other voices come forward so forcefully that it's sometimes pretty hard to tell what's one's own.


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