Re: RARA-AVIS: Chandler's "Noir Feel" for LA (was Denise Hamilton)

From: Grimes (
Date: 14 May 2004

Thanks Jims (D. and B.), Al and Miker for helping me think about this.

To me, it's not so much about saying noir (or hardboiled, or any genre) is just atmosphere, or that they are just character or even that they are both just the sum total of atmosphere and character. They're something else, the synthesis of the clash between character (in particular the protagonist) and environment.

So in the case of Chandler, there's the world Marlowe operates in - the city of L.A. and its people, icliques, industries, institutions, buildings, mores, justice, morality. There's its architecture large and small, of the streets and of the soul. But there's also the world of the work overall - the world that is the synthesis of the conflict between the protagonist and the city and society he's operating in - the world created by the book in our hand - a world created by the author but existing in (and in active partnership with) the reader's imagination.

I know I feel different - better, much less bleak - after I've read a Chandler or a Hammett than after I put down a Goodis or Woolrich. My world, at least, isn't so dark and sinister - its less noirish. Another way of putting it is that to me Chandler's world may be noirish in its atmospherics (and even, though I'm less sure about this, its intent) but not ultimately in its effects. If a thriller doesn't thrill, then what is it? Similarly, if a noir doesn't leave you feeling dark and sinister, what is it?

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