RARA-AVIS: Question for Mr. Sallis

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 21 Feb 2004

I wonder, Mr. Sallis, if you could offer a comment on something we've been debating off and on for seven years now: definitions of just what
"hardboiled" and "noir" mean. Perhaps you don't care--some others on the list don't--but for the rest of us it's a good old chestnut to come back to when things get dull.

Mr. Doherty, I think it was, defined hardboiled as "tough and colloquial," which everyone seems to like at least as a starting point. For hardboiled stuff we go back to Chandler's idea of a man on the mean streets who is himsself not mean, and back to Hammett's Spade and the Op, tough professionals who refuse to give in or bow to corruption.

I think Mr. Doherty's mini-definition of noir writing was "you're fucked." Here the corruption's unavoidable and all around, perhaps inside the protagonist, who's probably weak and maybe crazy. Here we go back to David Goodis or Cornell Woolrich, where everyone's doomed right from the start and it just gets worse. Noir stories are more crime novels with less mystery, too.

Did you need to define the terms in your books on Himes, Goodis, and Thompson? Do you care? If so, do you have any definitions?


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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