Re: RARA-AVIS: Hardboiled and Noir

From: Kerry Schooley (
Date: 15 Dec 2003

Like many of the older goats on this list I've accepted Jim's distinction between Hard Boiled and Noir as useful, but not quite definitive. Certainly the two are different, and I agree HB is largely an issue of style, specifically tough and colloquial. It is the relegation of Noir to mere atmospherics that seems limiting. The dark and sinister are there, but they're like e-coli bacteria in water, harmless in and of themselves while indicating the presence of far more dangerous substances not so readily detected.

For we humans, the world is in constant need of improvement. There's no indication that my dog, an otherwise agreeable companion, shares our viewpoint. If we cannot convince this highly domesticated species of our outlook, I doubt we'll have much success with the others. But for us, things always promise to be better if we can get this new job, find the ideal sexual partner, earn enough money, use the right drug, wear the finest clothes, pave a new road, save the trees, rid the world of tyrants, love God. Or maybe it's the other way around. Maybe we need to be rid of these things. Whatever, it's all about transcendence. We're never happy, which is the point of Noir.

Other genres view transcendence as possible. If Sam Spade solves the mystery of his partner's murder, and defines a useful code of the noble individualist along the way, then The Maltese Falcon is not Noir.

Noir views transcendence as impossible to satisfy. Soon as we improve one thing, something else needs fixing. In fact, our accomplishments, relatively speaking, are little, frustrated by conflicting objectives over who and what needs to go or be saved for things to be better. So if Sam Spade solves the mystery, but the human world spins merrily on its way, obsessed with the possession of meaningless trinkets, then The Maltese Falcon is very Noir indeed.

Ditto Spillane. Does anyone seriously believe Hammer's one-man I the Jury crusade stands any chance of improving the human condition?

As for crime writing, I don't think Al Guthrie's sub-categorization into any narrative from the criminal point of view, has the legs to lam it into high country. Crime writing is any narrative that involves a crime, in my neck of the woods anyway.

Best Kerry

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

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