Re: RARA-AVIS: Back into the definitional whirlpool

Date: 14 May 2004


Re your comments below:

> Only if you believe that words cannot evolve, as you
> clearly believe. I
> believe they can, and do.

The Humpty-Dumpty rule. "When I use a word it means precisely what I want it to mean. No more, no less."

Here's the thing, Mark. When Lewis Carroll put those words into Humpty-Dumpty's mouth, he meant it to be a DEBUNKING of that attitude.

Language is already imprecise enough a means of communication. Saying that words "evolve" only serves to make it even more imprecise.
> Also, you said no film past 1964 can be noir because
> after that year,
> any filmmaker who attempted it was self-conscious in
> his or her attempt
> to make a noir film. So you are locking the word
> down to a very
> specific meaning, bound not just by style, but also
> by time and
> production values (AND adding self-consciouness to
> the definition).
> Well, let's go to the extreme and look at David
> Lynch's Blue Velvet or
> Twin Peaks, both of which are filled with
> self-conscious reference to
> classic noir films. Are you actually saying they
> are not dark and
> sinister, even though they were not filmed in B & W
> pre-1964? If "dark
> and sinister" are the only requirements, how can
> they not be?

I've already said that the definition of "noir" and the question of whether or not any putative film noirs made after 1964 are truly noir, are separate questions. One can agree with the definition but disagree with the assertion that no post-'64 film qualifies. One can disagree with the definition, but agree that no post-'64 film qualfies. One can disagree with both assertions. One can agree with both assertions.

I'll be happy to debate either one of these assertions, but let's make it one at a time.

I've explained why I don't think any post-'64 film truly qualifies, giving my reasons. You don't agree? Fine. But the question has nothing to do with the my definition.
> And if self-consciousness is a deal-breaker, why
> does it not apply to
> modern writers, who are just as aware of their
> writing noir books as
> filmmakers became after the French retroactivity
> declared a cannon of
> films noir?

I explained that, too. You've really got to READ my posts before you respond to them.

What I said then, and am again saying now, is that, unlike film, prose fiction that meets the definition of noir continued to be produced. There wasn't a period where noir crime fiction completely disappeared, then was rediscovered in retrospect, leading to a whole group of novelists trying to self-consciously reproduce the effects of a style of crime-writing that had largely disappeared for the better part of a generation.

Now you may not agree that this makes any difference, and you may have an argument that knocks that position flat. If you do, present it, but at least deal with the argument rather than simply asking the same question as if I never answered it.

> Are you really saying that Pelecanos,
> Max Allan Collins,
> Lawrence Block, Jason Starr, Robert B Parker, etc.,
> are not awarely
> writing noir? Parker wrote a dissertation on it and
> Pelecanos was
> inspired to try it after taking a college course on
> noir writing. So
> why isn't self-consciousness a deal-breaker for
> writers?

Again, since "noir" didn't die out in prose fiction, whatever was produced by latter-day noir writers could NOT be an attempt to recapture a lost style, as was the case in film.

And, again, none of this has anything to do with the validity of the definition. It's a separate, distinct, question.
> And if "noir" is just a brandname and marketing
> tool, as it was for
> Duhamel, then can't it evolve through marketing, and
> the buying public?
> The closest analogy I can think of is with punk rock
> and new wave. A
> bunch of bands in a handful of local scenes started
> crudely playing a
> particular type of back to basics music in the
> mid-'70s. At first, any
> band who played particular clubs -- 100 Club
> (London), 9:30 (DC), CBGB
> (NYC), Rat (Boston), etc (fill in your city's club
> or clubs here) -- was
> labeled punk. This led to a very disparate
> collection of bands --
> Pistols, Clash, Ramones, Dead Boys, "one chord
> wonders," to use the
> Adverts exaggerated label, but also Stranglers,
> Suicide, Blondie,
> Television, Talking Heads, Cars and Police, some
> with very accomplished
> musicians who did not stick to 2 minute-two chord
> songs. At first, all
> of these bands were labeled punk (as were many pub
> rock, even metal
> bands like Motorhead), as much due to proximity as
> any musical
> commonality. However, the marketers at Sire were
> afraid that the term
> punk might be offputting to consumers, so they
> coined the term "new wave
> rock and roll" and, on a promo double single,
> applied it to several
> bands they had recently signed, whose first albms ey
> were marketing --
> Dead Boys, Talking Heads, Saints (their first album
> in the US, at least)
> and Richard Hell. (I guess they were okay with the
> Ramones being called
> punk.) In 1977, these bands had more in common than
> they later would,
> but even then they were pretty different from each
> other, both in
> subject matter and in instrumentation, as well as
> locale, even
> nationality. So if we look at the commonalities of
> Seymour Stein's
> marketers' term, all we have is guitar based
> (although TH and the Saints
> both had prominent keyboards), male-fronted,
> relatively, for the time,
> low production value rock and roll. Not very
> helpful. But then critics
> came along and wrestled the terms from marketers and
> started drawing
> very fine distinctions between punk and new wave, in
> retrospect -- for
> instance, the Ramones were punk, but the Cars were
> new wave. I, for
> one, found those distinctions very useful, both for
> classification and
> consumption.
> And that's how I think of hardboiled and noir. The
> latter, in
> particular, may have started as a marketing term,
> meant to be very
> inclusive, but through use by critics, writers and
> readers, the terms
> have taken on more distinctions and become more
> tightly defined (though
> obviously far from unanimously). And I, for one,
> find that very useful,
> both for discussion and for deciding what new books
> to buy from today's
> marketers.

By that logic, since moany publishers use "noir" as a synonym for "hard-boiled," believing that
"hard-boiled" is passe, but "noir," with its evocation of European intellectualism, sells, it follows that
"hard-boiled" and "noir" are interchangeable. Is that what you think, or do you think that those who use the two terms as interchageable marketing ploys are misusing them?
> By the way, although I'm not sure, I'd hazard a
> guess that all of
> Duhamel's original noir writers were male. So if we
> are using that
> original roster to define any and all common noir
> traits to be used for
> all time, why isn't that one of them?

Primarily because the guess you're hazarding is wrong.
 Gertrude Walker and Elizabeth Sanxay Holding were among the early writers on the Serie Noir list.


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