RARA-AVIS: Hammett and Existentialism - briefly - gingerly - one more time

From: Tim Wohlforth ( tim@timwohlforth.com)
Date: 17 May 2005

I really don't see a big difference here. "Personal morality" is consistent with an existential world view. What is not consistent would be action based on a moral code with underpinnings outside the personal experience and activity of the individual - God, humanity, country, or what have you. Yet that morality, if you want to call it that, is not justified by anything but itself, its existence.

Chandler's take is a bit different. He writes that the protagonist must be "a man of honor" and "the best man in his world and a good enough man in any world." I am not so sure Sam Spade so qualifies. And an existentialist would ask "who determines what is honorable?"

I would hold with what I say about existentialism and determinism. It is one of the difficulties with the outlook as it does not accept limitations on free will. And yet we know such limitations exist. In that sense it is defiant, and perhaps blind at times. Yet, to its credit, the view never excuses, never holds back from pushing the envelope, testing the limits it does not recognize, blaming society or mom for one's actions.

So what does this all have to do with reading, understanding and writing mystery fiction? To me the power of the best hardboiled derives from imperfect people battling in a rotten world for reasons rooted within themselves. It cuts through the saccharine, rings true to our existence, and even gives us a kind of hope. The hope that we can be true to ourselves regardless.

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 17 May 2005 EDT