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

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 16 May 2004

> > Yeah, I get that, but look up "dark" in the
> > dictionary. Among the
> > definitions that relate to colour and the relative
> > absence of light, you
> > will find "evil" and "sinister" as synonyms. The
> > words "dark" and
> > "sinister" are themselves moral valuations. In the
> > Canadian Oxford, at
> > least, but I doubt exclusively.
>I know, but I wanted to make clear that I'm not using
>them in that sense, or at least not EXCLUSIVELY in
>that sense.

There's a definition of sinister in which evil is not implicit? My point being that the use of this adjective applied to atmospherics implies a moral valuation.

Later you said:

But I would say that a world
(depicted with words in prose or with images in film) in which disorder and injustice reign would probably be dark and sinister, and a tough, colloquial hero who was able to impose justice and order on such a world
(however temporarily), would probably be hard-boiled.

I'm not debating your definition of hard boiled. I think that holds very well. And I don't think your statement above means that the hero has to impose justice and order to be hard boiled.

And yes, a world in which disorder and injustice reign is, in human moral terms, dark and sinister. But the writer of noir may use devices, other than a description of atmosphere to convey the sense of disorder and injustice. Character and plot, for instance. Or there may be times when the author not writing noir uses a dark and sinister atmosphere to show that their bright and shiny hero can restore order and justice to the world. In the end, I think the shift to a world of disorder and injustice serves any better than an atmosphere that is dark and sinister, though they are definitely a route toward the definition.

Similarly, a "fucked" or "screwed" protagonist, or that the story has characters that could be described as "losers" is not on the path but is again, in itself, adequate to define noir. In this case we're saying that noir is defined by characterization alone. Close, but no cigar, and definitely not a Havana.

What makes a story noir is that it adheres to the view that corruption is inherent in the human condition. It may be endured, but it cannot be defeated. To be human is to be corrupt. The joke is that only humans can recognize this (so far as we know.) In this way we are all fucked, but not just the losers among us. Even the winners are screwed. And yes this often makes for a dark and sinister atmosphere, but only as interpreted by humans, who often choose not to do so.

The world may be chaotic and unjust, but as humans we haven't the wit to understand how it works, entirely. Nevertheless, we are corrupt enough to believe that we can improve upon it. Only humans seem to have a sense of morality (again, so far as we know--I am pretty sure that celery does not,) but any morality that attempts to operate in a moral world (internal or external, individually or collectively) is pointless. Who needs rules that nobody breaks? So we're all fucked, and that's damned funny unless you're a frog committed to the pursuit of expanding human knowledge.

Character and atmosphere are devices used by storytellers, but what makes a story noir is point of view. The point of view that human corruption endures.

Now, an application. I haven't read much Vachs, but that which I did read seemed to imply that child molestation is the act of a few very bad, evil people. Eliminate those people and this evil will be eradicated. Maybe I misread, but if I did not, then Vachs is not noir.


------------------------------------------------------ Literary events Calendar (South Ont.) The evil men do lives after them

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