Re: RARA-AVIS: Philosophize This

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 01 Sep 2005

At 07:21 AM 01/09/2005 -0700, you wrote:
>Just thinking out loud here, but...
>I guess one could aspire to being philosophically hard-boiled, but what
>sort of sick annoying puppy would strive for noir?

Um, I guess that would be me.

>The former is a way of thinking, an attitude; the latter more a
>condition or atmosphere. Even in literature, hard-boiled generally
>refers to the attitudes of the narrator or author; the other more to
>the prevailing mood or tone.

You could look at it that way, but I've always felt there was more to noir than atmospherics. It represents a point of view, that you describe below.

>But assuming one would want to "be" noir, what would a noir philosophy
>consist of? We're all fucked and we're all gonna die

That sums it up nicely. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

> so the hell with
> In practice, it would seem like pretentious, glib, and
>morally hollow cynicism, a quick cutting remark for everything and an
>answer for nothing.

This may be your conclusion, but there are alternatives. One would be persistence (if at first you don't succeed, etc.) and another might be the mitigating power of a strong, dark sense of humour. In fact, we see a lot of both in noir fiction, sometimes to the point of obsession, and it seems to me this reflects a certain reality found in life.

Another option is a greater tolerance for the foibles of others. Seems to me that anything we might call human advancement has been gained more through persistence and learning from failure, than from knowing, and simply applying, all the correct answers in the first place. Experiment, fail, adjust, experiment again is the scientific method, if I remember my high-school physics. Because the strange thing is that despite failure, and despite human corruption in ourselves and others, and despite the fact that we all end up dead anyway, people, for some reason, aspire. It is so much a part of culture that it is difficult not to believe it's hard-wired somewhere in the old psyche. So why knock it? Why ridicule failure? Are you now arguing that crime, corruption and failure to transcend the human condition do not make up a defining theme in what we call noir fiction? In fact, I'd say the noir atmospherics stem directly from this theme.

>Someone suggests to me (seriously) that they're "noir," I'd suggest
>putting 'em on suicide watch.

Yes, well, people do commit suicide. They do become depressed, often quite severely and without any help from noir fiction. Why would that be? And why don't more commit suicide than do? Seems to me that these questions, and many like them, are implicit in noir fiction. Why are we entertained by violence, but not much inclined to experience it first hand? What does this tell us about ourselves, regarding our ability to tolerate violence at a distance?

We've talked before on this list about existentialism being an underpinning philosophy of noir fiction. If you like, you might consider noir more the point of view than a separate philosophy. If so, then the reason your conclusions seem glib is because you've moved too hastily to them. If there's an answer in this philosophy, noir suggests to me at least, it is the human drive to survive. I've no idea why, really. It does not make any logical sense, as you point out, on an individual level. It just seems, to me, most of the time, better than the alternative. Or maybe, as some noirish wag once said, I'd like to see what can go wrong next.

>Or in protective custody. Imagine living with someone like that?

Well, you'd have to ask Marg about that.

Best, Kerry

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