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

Date: 16 May 2004


Re your comments below:

> 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.

An atmosphere or a mood can give a sense of the the
"sinister," but devices like rain, and moonless nights, a fog-shrouded streets, while evoking the
"sinister," are morally neutral.
> 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.

Human imperfection is arguably a part of every piece of literature ever produced by human hand. It's not ALL noir.
> 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.

The world may be corrupt, but trying to improve it isn't a corrupt response. It's a hoeful one.

> 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.

You seem to be getting way off the track here. Rules are set up precisely because humans have a sense of right and wrong. Rules are a way of defining the behavior that allows us to live with each other in a civilized way.

Rules are broken because people are given the ability to make choices, and some people make evil choices.

What all this has to do with the definition of "noir," as it's applied to crime fiction is a bit beyond me.
> 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.

Well, duh! If it didn't endure, there wouldn't be sequels.
> 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.

If the definition of noir is that evil is not totally eriadicated, than Agatha Christie is noir, since there's always another murder for Poirot or Miss Marple to solve in the next book.

Look, Kerry, I'm not digging in my heels here because I think my classification is the only one that makes sense.

The point is, others already MADE the classification. And when they made it, it included a lot of authors whose work was, in many ways, not all that similar. PI stories, cop stories, criminal protagonist stories, spy stories, "doomed, flawed hero" stories, and even romantic thrillers. All I did was try to identify what all thise disparate works had in common.

The term "noir" was already in use. I saw how it was being used, to what it was being applied, and tried to identify the common elements.

As I said to Doug, I'm not the one doing the reclassifying.


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