Re: RARA-AVIS: Marlowe's morality

From: Kerry Schooley (
Date: 02 Sep 2003

At 09:21 AM 02/09/2003 -0700, you wrote:
>I'm really flabbergasted that a character who clearly
>tries as hard to be moral and ethical as Marlowe does
>is being described as "amoral or immoral" because he
>has to make hard choices.

I think you are right to be flabbergasted Jim, because a complex morality is at the heart of noir. That is why humanity is "doomed", or an atmosphere of doom, as we defined the genre earlier. I think noir fiction is crime writing underscored by two basic assumptions:

1) that there is no value in an easily attained morality. A morality that achieves goodness by virtue of doing what one would do anyway in self interest, or by virtue of belonging to the right group (the good people), or out of a desire to belong to the right group (political correctness), or by simply being born a good person, is pointless. Why have a morality if it does not challenge us as individuals to rise above our limitations?

2) more often than not we will make bad decisions. Either the circumstances are too complex, or we lack adequate information or we're just not smart enough to understand, let alone do the right thing, even when we want to. And anyway, who is to judge that we've done the right moral thing? Nobody cares but us humans, questions of faith aside, and we're hardly in a position of uncorrupt objectivity.

A question- Does noir presume that morality is now an individual concern? Hammet, Chandler and Macdonald all featured lone detectives with their own chivalrous codes, or at least trying to develop them after experiencing the failure of collective codes of behaviour in twentieth century warfare. Chandler talked about "a" man walking down these lonely streets. We do have examples of protagonists working within collectives to achieve their individual redemption, but does the genre preclude collectives trying to rebuild collective moral codes?

>Snide but good-natured cracks about my Jesuit
>education may now begin.

Well Jim, I figure you're the guy to start a heated discussion about the nature of goodness, morality and noir. I've exhausted my limited intelligence just asking the question.

Best Kerry

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

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