Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Humor and irony in noir

From: Doug Bassett (
Date: 22 Oct 2004

I think you can divide noir fiction roughly into two camps:

 -- lush romantic nightmares of the soul.

The root "pulp" source is probably Woolrich, I'd also toss into this camp Goodis and Derek Raymond. A lot of the more "highbrow" or self-conciously "literary" efforts also fall this way: TAPPING THE SOURCE, say, or Robert Stone (maybe Hubert Selby?). There's not much humor here; indeed, as has been said, humor here would definitely break the mood.

(There's a good interview with Stone somewhere where he confesses he's not a very "up" kind of guy.)

 -- sardonic, bitter, "it's all a bad joke and then you die" sort of stuff.

The obvious example here is Willeford, but I'd also toss in a lot of Thompson, who seemed to see life as a bitter joke played out at his own expense (consider my favorite Thompson book, POP. 1280) or Cain.

An interesting comparison would be THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE versus Horace McCoy's THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? Both noirs, both similar sorts of stories
(desperate people trying to make a go of it during the Depression and failing). But very different in their effect, mainly because there's a sardonic, bitter edge to Cain that's lacking in McCoy, who takes the whole thing very seriously. I like both stories very much, but there's very different vibes at work.

So, humor *can*, I think, co-exist with noir, it's just a certain kind of black, bleak humor.


--- wrote:

> "True, we're usually talking what is called "black"
> humour here,
> fittingly enough. (How about a debate defining black
> humour?)"
> Richard Pryor?
> Although that's a joke, much of his humor is based
> on laughing at life's
> absurdities, as is much of the humor in noir

===== Doug Bassett

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