Re: RARA-AVIS: Back into the definitional whirlpool

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 15 May 2004

Jim wrote:

"By that logic, since many 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?"

Now you are twisting my argument. You were the one touting the defining characteristics of a marketing term, Duhamel's. I said:

"But then critics came along and wrestled the terms from marketers and started drawing very fine distinctions between punk and new wave, in retrospect . . ."

And I would say we do exactly the same in the case you mention. As specialists, be we writers, critics or readers, we wrestle the terms from the marketers and use the terms in specialized ways, just as the jargon of scientists often has very specific meanings for words, such as validity, that have far looser meanings for the general public. For the general public, noir and hardboiled are probably largely synonymous, and it doesn't really matter for their level of interest. For us, it does, so we wrestle the words from the marketers and the public, then wrestle amongst ourselves over what the more specialized meanings are.

"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."

I finally looked at the list. Over 60 books were published by Serie Noir before one by Walker; Holding didn't make the first 100. So for 60+ books, male-written was a common trait of Noir books. So I guess itcomes down to at what point a member of the noir Amish freeezes time and refuses to change along with the culture.


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