Re: RARA-AVIS: Bastard child

Date: 26 Feb 2004


Re your comments below:

> But the term is out there in the big world now. We
> get to mess with it too.

A term's "being out there in the world" doesn't mean you get to "mess with it." It means you get to use it.
> Maybe I missed something. Did either of us said they
> were? I do recall, I
> think, that you had a different definition for
> hardboil than you had for
> noir, but again, not mutually exclusive. Why do you
> introduce these extra
> elements to debate?

When Miker said, "This is my problem with the famous Doherty definition as 'dark and sinister.' It simply lets too many cats in the door." you replied, "Such as all those dark & sinister yarns in which good reassuringly triumphs over evil at the end."

Now since good reassuringly triumps over evil in the end of a lot of hard-boiled crime fiction, and since some on this list have suggested that, if the hero wins, it's hard-boiled, but if the hero loses, it's noir, I inferred that you were excluding hard-boiled from noir.

> You've done this sort of circular argument before.
> Tragedy is not the same
> as noir because all noir is not by definition
> tragic. Not very compelling,

That's not a circular argument. If tragedy is not a defining element of noir, as I've always maintained, then it follows that noir can exist without tragic elements (as tragedy is classically defined). In other words, noir doesn't have to be about a protagonist who is destined to meet a bad end because of a fatal flaw in his personality.

Now, since noir deals with crime, and crime requires a victim, than certainly noir has, as you say, elements of tragedy as the term is loosely (as opposed to literarily) applied. So does all crime fiction, noir or non-noir. But that's not the same as saying all noir is, by definition tragic, when it's not. It wasn't when Duhamel coined the term and it's not now.
> That's a pretty thin edge, the difference between
> crime fiction and fiction
> with crime. I understand what you're getting at and
> I can see where such a
> difference would be useful, but is there a
> percentage or possibly a word
> count I can use as a reliable reference? I'd like to
> have the distinction
> handy next time I'm held to account by authority:
> "You see, mine is a life
> of crime officer, but not really a criminal life."

I think it was clear that I was speaking of crime fiction as a separate, distinct literary genre. As a literary genre it dates from the mid-19th Century. That parts of the Bible, Greco-Roman mythology, Shakespeare, etc., contain elements that are now recognized, in rerospect, as the elements that Poe merged into crime fiction when he wrote "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" just means that stories deal with conflict, and always have, and conflict often means a bad guy doing bad things (things you might call crimes, if you were so inclined) and a good guy opposing him.
> Sure, that's why we overlooked it. But jeez, we're
> trying to settle this
> noir definition thing for all eternity now. It's
> gone way beyond our little
> circle. You'd be surprised how often I'm asked in
> bookstores for a
> definition of noir.

Then just tell them that it's a crime story with a dark and sinister atmosphere. Period.

Or, if you can't abide that definition, then tell them whatever YOU think the definition is.

What's the big deal? If someone asks you a question, answer it, in or out of a bookstore.


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