Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: RARA-AVIS Digest V4 #231

From: Kerry (
Date: 23 Apr 2002

At 01:32 PM 4/23/02 -0700, you wrote:
>Hard-boiled crime fiction is the fiction of the
>working class.

I'm going to climb halfway out on Jim's limb here ( keeping an eye on his saw hand) and agree there are significant working class atmopherics to hardboil. Class can be fluid and speech patterns are characteristic, but not defining. That colloquialism branch is getting shakier with each defense. I think that hardboil implies a workmanlike approach to life, as if it's a tough job, but somebody has to get on with it. The genre is an exploration of what this means as much as a definition of it. Surely a good, hardboiled story can be made about an unexpected character rising to the gritty occasion.

I believe what defines this "workmanlike" approach is the attitude toward death. Hardboil or noir recognizes the inevitability of death, and entertains the possibility that this may be a good thing. Cosies are fantasies that make light of death to reassure readers. Horror also fantasizes death, shocking readers now so they may be less frightened by the real thing. Romance, if it recognizes death at all, treats it as a bad thing, something to be overcome. Then cross-genres confuse the muddle. But western society largely denies death. We talk of "saving lives" as if this could be more than postponing death. Religions promise eternal life in exchange for good behaviour. And we try not to dwell on death in our day to day lives.

Hardboil values life, but looks death straight on. It recognizes the irony that life consumes life in order to live, a particular challenge to any community that values the individual over the collective. The question for members of such a society is: What makes life meaningful if we're going to die anyway? This question is most important to the powerless, people who are not among society's winners, though the powerful are notoriously unsentimental when challenged.


------------------------------------------------------ Literary events Calendar (South Ont.) The evil men do lives after them

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