Re: RARA-AVIS: RE: Hardboiled AND Noir

Date: 15 Dec 2003


Re your refences below:

> In her book The Noir Thriller, Lee Horsley makes a
> good case for hardboiled
> being a subset of noir.
> More info:

Interesting, but it makes the common mistake of most academic studies (one might argue ALL academic studies) of literature, which is the presuppostion that nothing is so simple that it can't be made more complicated.

Some things really are simple. "Hard-boiled" and
"noir" are two of them.

To focus on one fallacious argument made in one of the pieces, Horsely draws a distinction between HB detectives who maintain an air of moral superiority
(i.e. Marlowe), and those who are, in some way, implicated in the corruption (i.e. Spade and the Op), character he calls "compromise detectives."
"Compromise detective," he says, are transitional figures in the evolution to "noir."

Among the many rocks against which this distinction sinks is the fact that, as was pointed out several weeks ago, Marlowe also has to make moral compromises to achieve any success (for all that he tries his best to compromise as little as possible), and the fact that detective characters whom no one could ever label hard-boiled, like Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes in
"The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" and "The Blue Carbuncle," Christie's Hercule Poirot in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, and Van Dine's Philo Vance in at least one of those unreadable "(six-letter word) MURDER CASE books, all make the same kind of moral compromises WITHOUT being transitional figures.

"Noir's" atmosphere. That's all it is. All that other stuff, the pessimism, the nihilism, the fatalism, and the defeatism, might be important movements within crime fiction but they're not the sum total of "noir." There's too many other things that ARE "noir," but aren't that, for that to be what defines noir. But what it all has in common is a dark and sinister atmosphere, so it follows that the atmospheric elements are also the defining elements.


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