Re: RARA-AVIS: Was Kafka Noirish?

From: Michael Robison (
Date: 11 Feb 2005

Bruce wrote:

That subject interests me, too. Does anyone have any suggested reading for 19th and early 20th C literary influences for early noir writers?


Besides the existential writings, I have often (ad nauseum?) pointed to the American Naturalists as the foundation of noir. If you are interested in this, I would recommend reading Stephen Crane's MAGGIE: A GIRL OF THE STREETS. Tough. Dark.

The following is from an article I wrote on existentialism and noir. Hip boots are recommended.

The foundation of existentialism was laid by the Danish religious philosopher Soren Kierkegaard around the middle of the 19th century, and was reinforced by the writings of Dostoevsky, Hesse, Kafka, and Nietzsche. It coalesced in the long shadow cast by World War I, and gained momentum in the Great Depression and Second World War that followed. Existentialism rejects absolutes and defines a man by the choices he makes in life. Unchained from the canons of the past, a man is free to create himself in his own image.

Although this appears to be a liberating philosophy, a closer examination reveals a darker side. The authority behind all one's former beliefs crumbles, and the comfort and security of knowing what is right and wrong, what is valuable and what is worthless, collapses into a nihilistic void. Because one's social group probably still believes something close to his discarded views, the person faces alienation from his peers. To make things even uglier, the choices by which a person must redefine himself are necessarily limited by circumstances and society. By restricting the choices a person can make, society limits what a person can be, setting the individual in an antagonistic relationship with society. This is the essence of the noir experience.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 11 Feb 2005 EST