RARA-AVIS: Razama Chaz

From: Robison Michael R CNIN ( Robison_M@crane.navy.mil)
Date: 03 Jul 2003

Hey! Isn't this Willeford month? I just finished his New Forms of Ugly thesis in WRITING AND OTHER BLOOD SPORTS. I saw it mentioned here on rara-avis many moons ago, but really became interested in reading it after seeing it referred to several times in Paul Duncan's NOIR FICTION. The thesis describes the "immobilized man" in literature, a character who has a lot in common with the archetype noir protagonist.

Willeford describes the immobilized man as a person isolated from the mores of society and with a crippling tendency to make bad choices in his life, if, indeed, he can make any choices at all. He views marriage and regular employment as a fate worse than death. With strong doubts about whether life is worth living, he harbors self-destructive tendencies, ranging from antisocial behavior, suicide, and murder with no attempt to escape the consequences. Camus's THE STRANGER and McCoy's THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? are good examples of the latter.

It's been a while since I read NOIR FICTION, but I seem to recall that Duncan equated the noir protagonist with Willeford's immobilized man. I don't think that's exactly correct. Willeford's immobilized man is an artist or writer, and oftentimes keeps a journal or in some other way records his thoughts. The only thing valid in life is the artistic endeavor. A caveat on this is that I noticed Willeford using several literary examples who weren't artists. After reading New Forms of Ugly, it's apparent that Willeford's BURNT ORANGE HERESY is a novel about an immobilized man.

Through all this cold emotional detritus, Willeford's sophisticated and wicked sense of humor shines like the warm sun. The guy is gold. He's sharp as hell and displays considerable insight into some very dark corners or the human psyche, but he never becomes buried in it.

I recommend reading it although I would note that most of the authors he discusses lie on the fringe of what most rare birds would consider hardboiled or noir. Off the top of my head, a few are John Barth, Jack Kerouac, Saul Bellow, Nathanael West, Dostoevsky, Camus, Chester Himes, Kafka, Michael Butor, and Samuel Beckett.


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