Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Philosophise This 101

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 06 Sep 2005

At 02:17 PM 05/09/2005 -0700, you wrote:

>Kerry, your explanation of a noir philosophy, incorporating dogged
>perseverance strikes me as more hard-boiled than noir, a practical
>approach to an often impractical world. Or maybe we're tackling the
>concept of noir from different angles. I see noir as total black, but
>you let a bit of grey (and maybe even a little hope) creep in to your
>definition. I see hard-boiled as a way to view life; noir as what
>happens when people's lives -- no matter what they may believe -- get

The difference is a bit more subtle than that. Mankind is truly screwed, from his own point of view. Each of us will die. There's nothing grey about that. But where you conclude that nothing matters, I recognize that for a great many people life does matter, even many who have come to accept its disappointments.

Sol Alinsky spoke at McMaster way back in olden times when I attended classes,. Alinsky had worked organizing the CIO under John L. Lewis. Later he applied his skills to organizing poor and disenfranchised communities; one of his early challenges being the "back of the yards" area of Chicago, predominantly poor Irish families of workers in the stock yards and slaughter houses. He was sufficiently successful that one of their number
(Daley the Elder) eventually became mayor of Chicago, serving many terms. Alinsky visited Mac toward the end of his career, fresh from a contract to help organize black communities in Chicago in response to the neglect and corruption of Daley's administration.

Didn't this mean that Alinsky's work had been a pointless failure? He said not. It was natural to expect that when people are given power, even the formerly disenfranchised will protect their status from new challengers. And he understood that power inevitably corrupts. He saw community organization as a never-ending political struggle to be undertaken by
"radicals" and seemed genuinely chuffed that his life's work was as relevant at the end of his career as at its beginning. He was definitely a hard boiled, combative guy with a noir philosophy.

I think the difference between your and my definition of noir hangs around the word "screwed". Do you feel that this means people are screwed in each and every endeavor? I favour the notion that people are ultimately screwed. Actually, I only accept screwed as a convenient shorthand. I believe the defining characteristic of noir fiction is that it is the only genre that is non-transcendent. Most other genres suggest that if the protagonist behaves a certain way, they will transcend the human dilemma. Love conquers all. Work hard and apply yourself and you will succeed. Have sufficient faith and you will be rewarded, if not on earth than in heaven. Ditto the
"moral" path. Tragedy suggests the same thing by taking a negative approach. Do wrong and you will fail. If not for indecision, Hamlet would have fared better, found happiness with Ophilia or something. If not for unrestrained ambition, MacBeth would have been King, etc. If not for a silly family feud, Romeo and Julliet would have lived in love. The Prince says so at the end of the play, and the two families see the error of their ways. It is meant to be instructive. Tragedy shows the failure to transcend, but only noir denies the possibility of transcendence. There is only one way out of the human condition, and that is death.

As a consequence you suggest all is meaningless, and that may be true. I suggest that in the void, people supply their own meanings to life. Spade is a moral man. What difference does this make? Archer is still dead, and no one, least of all his wife or his former partner, miss him. Justice doesn't care. One of the cops would just as soon hang the murder on Spade. The other cop would prefer people behave and make his job easier. Neither will solve the crime. Is Brigid Shaughnessy better off for Spade's morality? Don't think so. Do people take the lesson and end the obsessive pursuit of false idolatry? Not the Fat Man and his gang. What about Spade? What does he get? He gets to think better of himself and stay in business. What he has sacrificed is anything from the probability of a good lay, to one of the most significant experiences of life: the opportunity to love and be loved. But Spade seems satisfied with the bargain and that is enough. If the world were improved by his sacrifice, he'd soon be out of work. That's no good.

I love noir because it considers these questions. They may be pointless in the long run, but entertain me while I'm alive. Consideration of the pointlessness of life may be pretentious, gratuitous etc. etc. but death is still inevitable, and nobody's offered incontrovertible evidence of any meaning to life so far as I can see. I'm definitely not hard boiled myself, but if you think death is hard, all I can suggest is that you haven't seriously considered what life might be like without this single most important agent of change and renewal.

>Or is it possible that being hard-boiled is simply the way to deal with
>a noirish world? One could conceivably think we're all doomed, but not
>be noir themselves, couldn't they? A true noir believer would just let
>it happen; a hard-boiled believer would fight.

Nearly all of us resist it, hard-boiled or otherwise. It's not that life is so grand. It's just that the alternative, non-existence, is so, well, indefinite. Hard even to imagine. And it's eternal, so why rush it?

>And then, the question wouldn't be why Marg would put up with you
>(surely one of life's great mysteries :-) but why, if you honestly
>believe nothing matters, you're still there for her to put up with.

Largely because nobody else would put up with me. And I value the experience of loving, and being loved, incomprehensible it may be. I think Spade made a mistake.

>I mean, would a truly noir guy ever admit he has a thing for Otis

Ah well, I dig Redding's rendition of Tenderness because it so closely parallels coitus, right through to orgasm. That is strictly biological.

Best, Kerry

------------------------------------------------------ Literary events Calendar (South Ont.) The evil men do lives after them

------------------------ Yahoo! Groups Sponsor --------------------~--> Life without art & music? Keep the arts alive today at Network for Good!

RARA-AVIS home page:
  Yahoo! Groups Links

<*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

<*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

<*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 06 Sep 2005 EDT