RARA-AVIS: Noir definition

From: Michael Robison ( miker_zspider@yahoo.com)
Date: 14 May 2004

Al Guthrie wrote: Don't get hung up on Jim's definition, Steve. Some of us have our own definitions. In my case, I don't see how you can separate noir from character. Applied to atmosphere only, Jim's definition describes Gothic, not noir. In noir, the sinister element comes from the character's perception of the world (a worldview which is often twisted and paranoid -- 'noirotic', if you will). And Jim's definition doesn't take into account the mortality of the protagonist, which is hugely important in (and possibly even fundamental to) noir
(as Russell James once pointed out). I see the difference between hardboiled and noir in the reaction to events. For example, when a hardboiled character is shot it makes him angry and acts as a spur to further acts of toughness; when a noir character's shot he spends the rest of the book dying (if he's shot in the foot, he'll prod and poke and eventually the wound will become infected). To respond to your original post, Steve, I'd agree that Chandler's hardboiled, but I see Marlowe operating in a hardboiled (not noir) world.

*************** This is my perception also, and Paul Duncan parallels it in his NOIR FICTION book. Duncan differentiates between the hardboiled and noir protagonist by psyche, degee of control, and location. The hardboiled protag is barely in control and perched on the edge of the abyss. The noir protag has lost control and is swimming in the abyss. From his viewpoint, Chandler and Hammett wrote hardboiled, not noir. Mario paralled this when he stated that (paraphrased) Hammett is simply too tough to be noir.

Duncan states:

"Noir is not a kind of macho Hard-Boiled fiction where Tough Guys pass moral judgement on an immoral society.
 Noir is about the weak-minded, the losers, the bottom-feeders, the obsessives, the compulsives and the psychopaths. Noir is about the people standing on the edge of the abyss looking in, but about the people in it, forever writhing, aware of the pain aware of the future pain to come."

There is a disparity between noir in film and fiction that goes beyond the mere difference in media. In film it's little more than a style, whereas noir fiction embraces an entire philosophy. Willeford describes it well in his IMMOBILIZED MAN essay.


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