Re: RARA-AVIS: the white man be hangin' on by his fingertips

From: Steve Novak (
Date: 04 Feb 2005

This article is both a good sign and a curious failure for such a paper like the NYTimes...

Good sign because it is always good to turn the lights so to speak, onto the noir genre in all it¹s forms and to try to link the present interest to a larger spectrum of activity like Anne Douglas at Columbia is doing,
(although the so-called Œpsycho-socio-economic reasons behind noir¹ have been written about endlessly for two decades on both sides of the Atlantic)...It is also good to give a quick survey of the genre and its historical evolution and the present forms from films to books by either masters of the genre or new writers, since many younger readers and moviegoers may not have been exposed to the historical context and background...

Then there is this attempt to give account of the presence of noir writers outside of the US, that ends up covering three places only and some of the authors mentioned are more in the Œbalzacian¹ version of realism than in the stern dampness of noir...That Ms Jefferson gives details of some of the recently US published foreign authors is a goog thing but to reduce the
Œforeign contingent¹ at a short synopsis of six authors is extremely shortsighted or simply uninformed...Moreover these minimal Œbook reviews¹ are without context or scope insofar as the evolution of the genre in UK, Italy, France, Spain...and Japan...and mostly devote themselves to a combination of foreign and female to define the evolution of the genre...

I gladly sent the article to several friends but I remain very disapointed when I think about the terrain that could have been also covered in an article of the same length and the same exposure....

Montois de D鴲oit

On 02/4/05 8:56 AM, "" <> wrote:

> from the New York Times
> The New Noir, Not Always by Men or by Americans
> Published: February 4, 2005
> Noir is the perfect example of how a popular form goes classic. Video stores
> devote shelves to noir films. Theaters mount sold-out festivals; we crowd in
> and cheer at the first sight of those terse, lurid titles on-screen: "Double
> Indemnity," "Naked City," "I Wake Up Screaming." Playwrights, poets and
> performers create noir characters and scenes. We read novelists like Dashiell
> Hammett,
> James M. Cain and Jim Thompson - once deemed pulp - in respectable Library of
> America volumes.
> The best television drama still thrives on noir traditions: cities that are
> corrupt from top to bottom, law officers as cynical as the criminals they
> pursue, people driven by greed (for money, power, sex), and a pervasive sense
> that
> everyone has hidden motives and nothing is what it seems. "Law & Order," with
> its clockwork plots of social and psychic blight that end bleakly or
> ambiguously, has entered rerun eternity. The tales of multilayered corruption
> and
> complication in "The Wire" make repeat viewing both necessary and pleasurable.
> (George Pelacanos, one of the best contemporary noir novelists, writes for
> "The
> Wire." So does flashy Dennis Lehane, whose pre-"Mystic River" thrillers were
> his best.)
> In the 1980's, the small, resourceful Black Lizard Press began reissuing
> noir novels of the 40's and 50's in all their pulp glory: small volumes on
> thin
> paper with steamy, stylized covers that seemed to say: "I'm a piece of lowlife
> memorabilia. Don't pass me by."
> In 1990 Vintage bought Black Lizard; its first reissues were upscale and
> sleek. Now, Vintage has reissued a much bigger selection of these books in
> their
> original formats, both famous and obscure. You may know titles like "Shoot the
> Piano Player," but what about "The Damned Don't Die"?
> It seems noir is busting out all over. But why now? Ann Douglas, professor
> of literature at Columbia University, is writing a book about the form called
> "Noir Nation." As a genre, noir took off in the late 40's, she said,
> adding,"Its golden age coincided with the first 10 years of the cold war and
> of the U.S.
> as an openly imperial power." Its resurgence is hardly accidental now, she
> said, when conservatives talk about a new kind of war between good and evil
> and
> reclaim America's right to be an empire.
> "Noir is a critique of power," Ms. Douglas went on. "It operates on Balzac's
> premise that every great fortune is the result of a great crime. Power and
> money are ugly and they rule. You enjoy it but you don't forget it." At the
> very
> least, noir offers an alternate reality - moments of real passion, a bleak
> code of honor, and a need for freedom amid corruption. At its best, noir
> offers a
> map of subversion.
> Noir was a brainchild of the United States. And most of the creators of
> classic noir - novelists and screenwriters, directors and cameramen - were
> men.
> Women were their mysterious, sometimes villainous, always seductive objects of
> desire. It should be no surprise, then, that in the 1970's female writers
> started creating female detectives with the cynical integrity of the classic
> men.
> (One of the first of these writers, Marcia Muller, remains one of the best.)
> Right now, though, some of the best writers of modern noir come from outside
> the United States - Sweden's Henning Mankell, for instance, whose Kurt
> Wallander mysteries move from local and national politics to global economics
> and
> (in Ms. Douglas's phrase) "transnational psychopathy."
> Some of the most original writers of this imported noir are women. Noir has
> always shown that greed and chaos are as close as the company we work for or
> the politicians we vote for. The best female writers are adding families to
> that list - with a vengeance. And if male writers have explored the eros of
> violence, these women explore the violence of eros.
> I found a telling remark that seemed to foreshadow this trend in "Detour,"
> one of the few classic noir tales by a woman. In this clever 1953 novel by
> Helen Nielsen, a burly, thickheaded law officer sneers, "This is a sheriff's
> office, not a court of human relations."
> But noir is a court of human relations, and some crimes are beyond legal
> restitution.
> In the Scottish writer Denise Mina's forceful trilogy ("Garnethill," "Exile,"
> "Resolution"), Maureen, the central character, is an alcoholic; a
> working-class underachiever in Glasgow, fighting the legacy of a sexually
> brutal family.
> Glasgow is also the city of noir brutality in Louise Welsh's sinister
> "Cutting Room." As a drug dealer observes, "You know, Glasgow imports more
> baseball
> bats than any city in Britain, and there's not a single baseball team in
> town."
> The narrator is a witty, dissolute gay man of 43 named Rilke, who works in an
> auction house. While assessing the estate of a rich Glasgow merchant, Rilke
> comes across pornographic photographs that suggest a young woman has been
> killed in the making of a snuff film. Unsure of his own motives, he decides to
> find
> out.
> Ms. Welsh is such a good writer she can afford leisurely scenes that give us
> the texture of Rilke's life but don't help solve the mystery. Why should
> they? This isn't how life works. It is Ms. Welsh's elegantly edited version of
> how
> a noir unfolds in real time.
> Two of the best female new-noir novelists I have read are Japanese: Miyuki
> Miyabe and Natsuo Kirino give us an underworld that has moved quietly above
> ground. In this quotidian world no one is heroic: not the criminals and not
> their
> pursuers. Men and women get equal time as objects of desire and menace.
> Both writers take the full measure of Japan's boom-bust economy of the
> 1980's. In Ms. Miyabe's coolly harrowing "All She Was Worth," money is the
> engine
> of lust: mergers and scams have turned consumers into addicts. Everyone
> borrows, some steal and a few kill. Her new novel, "Shadow Family," will be
> published
> this month: it involves a husband and father who creates a second, altogether
> different family on the Internet.
> Ms. Kirino's "Out" has just been published in paperback by Vintage, and it
> is superb. It begins on a factory line where women assemble box lunches. Four
> are part-time night shift workers; by day they are hardworking, unhappy
> homemakers. When one kills her husband in a fit or rage, the others band
> together to
> hide the crime.
> Sisterhood? More like the desperate need for money, and for the ringleader,
> Masako, a desperate need to break free of her life. Masako is a fascinating
> character: stern, relentlessly smart; a crime-solver and a criminal. Ms.
> Kirino
> writes of Masako's growing solitude: "When stones lying warm in the sun were
> turned over, they exposed the cold damp earth underneath, and that was where
> Masako had burrowed deep. There was no trace of warmth in this dark earth, yet
> for a bug curled up tight in it, it was a peaceful and familiar world."
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