Re: RARA-AVIS: Bastard child

Date: 27 Feb 2004


Re your comments below:

> " the end of a LOT of hard-boiled crime
> fiction," but not all of it. I
> suspect not even in most of it, but why quibble?
> Some stories are
> hardboiled and noir. The terms are not mutually
> exclusive.

Okay, the we're agreed on that.
> Another lap around the track. It must be a circular
> argument. My head is
> spinning. Point is, the trip is not sufficient to
> remove the "If" from the
> beginning of your second sentence. Nor is the "as
> I've always maintained."

If you start from a premise, then what follows logically from that premise must, if the premise is correct, be the result. You may disagree with my premise (of course, you'll be wrong if you do, but you can disagree, just the same), but disagreeing with my premise, that "noir" is not synonomous with "tragic"
(in the literary sense), is not the same as saying that my argument is circular.
> Well, I'd say it does. I'd argue it again, but that
> just puts me on the
> same track as you, going in the opposite direction.

The difference is I never said your argument was circular. I said your premise was flawed. The reason I said your premise was flawed isw because it WAS, in fact, flawed.

> Of course I'd agree with you that, loosely applied,
> the term "tragedy" is
> useless within the context of crime fiction. But
> literarily applied, as you
> put it, it is not. So we agree that not all crime
> fiction has a protagonist
> that is tragically flawed.

Neither does all noir.

> Then that's what makes Duhamel's definition of noir
> of little value when we
> try to understand what makes noir different from
> other crime fiction. He
> used the term as a brand for marketing his books.
> Fine, but as an able
> salesman, he could be relied upon to broaden the
> meaning of the brand to
> encompass the products he chose to sell.
> Similarly "dark and sinister" is too broad. We may
> reasonably say that any
> story that involves crime, especially murder,
> employs dark and sinister
> atmospherics. Even Miss Marple dealt with dark
> goings on in her little
> village. But Miss M was a good soul in a positive
> environment that would be
> restored to good when the crime was solved. Sam
> Spade, on the other hand,
> was uncertain of his values, which made his need to
> enforce them that much
> stronger, and I'm not sure the world was a better
> place when he was done. I
> doubt even that Spade was any better off. There is a
> difference between
> these two protagonists, and it is more than the fact
> that one was
> hardboiled (employing a colloquial style, I think
> you said) and the other not.

So let me get this straight. Duhamel, who first coined the term, got the term wrong? He was the first one to use it, in fact he INVENTED it as a term for describing a particular kind of mystery, but he got it wrong?

And "dark and sinister" is too broad? That's the first time that particular criticism has been leveled against it in awhile. Recently, the more common criticism has been that it's far too restrictive.

If it is broad, that's why it serves as a good definition. It not only includes the "classicly tragic" type of crime fiction you've been talking about, but any other crime fiction that is imbued with a dark and sinister atmosphere.

It's simple, easy to remember, and applies to most (I would maintain ALL) of the crime stories generally regarded as coming under the "noir" umbrella. It includes the ever-triumphant Mike Hammer as well as Cain's murderous but sympathetic protagonists. Just as it did when Duhamel first coined it as a marketing tool.

> No, I'm sorry, it means something more specific than
> conflict. In
> crime-writing the bad guy has come into a specific
> set of conflicts: those
> that involve the encoded rules set down by the
> collective society in which
> he lives. Literature and life have many other types
> of conflicts, but the
> defining conflicts in crime-writing are criminal.

I think you missed my point here. What I said was that, prior to Poe, there were certainly stories with bad guys doing bad things (i.e. "committing crimes") that good guys opposed. For that matter, crimes (or acts that most readers would commonly understand to be crime) still occur in stories that are not, strictly speaking, crime stories, per se, such as westerns and science fiction.

After Poe, as crime fiction gradually comes to be recognized as a separate, distinct genre, it takes on what you call "a specific set of conflicts." I was only drawing an historical distinction between stories with crimes (acts which identified the villain and created conflict so that the story could move forward), and crime stories (stories that fall within a distinct, identifiable literary genre post-Poe).
> Within that category are another group of stories
> that have something else
> in common, such as not-so-good guys as protagonists,
> or maybe sometimes
> nice guys as protagonists who can't handle the
> conflict, can't redeem
> themselves or make the world a better place. That,
> as I tell the folks at
> the bookstore, is noir. According to moi.

They may very well be noir, but they're not all there is to noir. It's not that my defintion is too broad, but that yours is much too restrictive and excludes far too much crime fiction that clearly was included, and intended to be included, when the term was coined.

And, returning to your earlier point, to assert that the person who coined the term somehow used it incorrectly virtually from the very first moment he coined it is to make an argument that is so specious on its face that it barely even requires a response.
> It's okay that we'd tell them different things. I
> hope some day to enjoy
> the pleasure of meeting you as others on RARA-AVIS
> have. Maybe we should
> talk about the weather?

Actually it's not. Presuming that I'm right and you're wrong (always a safe presumption), you're giving them incorrect information, when, if you just told them that it's a crime story that has a dark and sinister atmosphere, and that's really all there is to it, you'd be giving them correct information.

And I rarely find the weather a sufficiently interesting topic (though the Chicago winter this year was a real bitch).


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