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

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

At 12:16 PM 16/05/2004 -0700, you wrote:

>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.

Uh, no. Here is where you are very wrong indeed. Nights, moonless or otherwise, and rain, fog-shrouded streets are morally neutral. They are not sinister. If you don't believe me, ask one. Sinister is an evaluation made by humans and applied to moonless, rain and foggy night streets. And that valuation implies evil, a moral determination.

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

Nor did I say it was.

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

I did not say the world was corrupt. I said humans were. The world is what it is, like the moonless nights and the fog-shrouded streets, morally neutral. Only humans would say that the world is corrupt. That itself is a corruption. We're not in a position to make such a decision.

>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.

Yep. And we break them, even in their application. Can't live with 'em. Can't live without 'em.

>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.

Apparently so. You seem to think that evil (in addition to the possibility of being wrong) is beyond you as well. But noir deals with the fact that human corruption endures in us as individuals as well as in our collective societies. Crimes may be solved, but they will be committed again. Sometimes they are not solved. Sometimes the people who attempt to solve them commit additional crimes in the process. Sometimes they commit those crimes while not seriously attempting to solve the crimes they claim to be trying to solve. Sometimes they, and we, are just fucked from the get-go, by maintaining moral standards to which we can only aspire. But humanity goes merrily along committing crimes (moral and otherwise, individually and collectively) for our own enrichment.

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

That's one way of showing the endurance. Perhaps that's why sequels, or character series are so common in the noir genre. But other genres encourage the fantasy that human corruption does not endure, or exist, or is not worth considering. Romance assumes that all will be well if the one we love loves us back. Gothic novels tended to put evil into certain landscapes (though often this was a metaphor for human corruption.) Westerns too, assume evil (if at all) is a function of geography, though they quickly move beyond that. Monster stories (vampire, mummies and other serial killers) assume evil is not human, or super-human. War stories tend to think that it is war that is dehumanizing, forgetting who engages in the process, or that it is ennobling. Science Fiction often features stories that forget about human nature entirely. Of course, genres are not pure. Themes cross.

>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.

Next book. But Christie views murder as some sort of happy social accident done largely for the readers' entertainment. Don't forget, too, that Christies often evoke dark and sinister atmospherics. But world's a better place when the crime is solved, in Christies' fantasies.

>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

Never said you were. I may be reclassifying. Certainly there is ample evidence of others who agree with your definition (usually by those who don't care enough to argue about it as we do). Still, possession of a dark and sinister atmosphere is not adequate to define noir, as I see it.

And the debate is worthwhile. Many ideas have been raised that would not have received consideration without it.

Best Kerry

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

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