Re: RARA-AVIS: Question for Mr. Sallis

Date: 22 Feb 2004

Dear Bill,

In response to your question about definitions of "hardboiled" and "noir," I have to say that I don't find having definitions of these terms very helpful as either reader, writer, or critic. When teaching, I point out that the word "jazz" has become so devalued as to mean nothing -- which is to say, to mean too much: you have to point to show what you intend to mean. In our time, "noir" has suffered the same fate, though I take this soup originally to have come off the same stove upon which post-war despair simmered to French existentialism, i.e., Camus. It's not by accident that L'Etranger was modeled on Horace McCoy and his kind. (If you want a great "noir" novel, there's none plus noir than They Shoot Horses: a dance into the abyss.) "Hardboiled" still means something, I think, but chiefly in opposition to something else, and it's really more a marketing tool than a useful description. Well, yeah, sure Hammett and Chandler. Pelecanos. But what about Danny Woodrell, Jack O'Connell, Shira Rozan, John Harvey? There's just too much rich, various, highly original work going on these days for us to be held to historical categories.


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