Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: On Noir

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 29 Sep 2005

At 04:55 PM 29/09/2005 +0000, you wrote:
>I agree with you. Most of what's published these days as "noir" is
>as you say, the world as a dark place. To me, a better definiton
>would be to simply label these as dark crime stories/novels. Most of
>the stories in the Century of Noir anthology fit the definition you
>describe. So unfortunately the definition of noir is slowly being
>watered down, and even more unfortunate, true (traditional) noir is
>getting harder to find (and even harder to publish!)

But you're not looking for noir in these stories Dave. By your definition, you're looking for tragedy in dungarees. If you don't accept noir as a genre distinct from tragedy, you can't expect to recognize it when you come across it.

As for the notion that we have to accept the definition of book reviewers and marketers that noir simply means "dark" (and by that I think you mean, Tim, dark in atmosphere as opposed to doomed) because that's what helps them sell books, I don't accept that either. I go with your existentialists, finding only chaos in the worlds of reviewers and marketers, and so coming up with a definition of noir that makes sense to me. Of course, as a noir-type person, I expect that my attempts to explain my definition of noir is doomed to failure, defeated primarily by the very human trait of wanting to see light at the end of every tunnel.

But I do take Tim's point. I think a lot of current noir writing falls into 2 categories- one being the usurpers who take up some of the characteristics of noir, missing the essential ingredient of doom. The other is to take the notion of being doomed for granted, failing to acknowledge your second point of the existentialists- that individuals make up values and reasons to get them through life. Instead these authors take the path that Kevin described earlier: if we're all doomed there's no point in life so let's have a big shoot-em-up. There's certainly ample evidence of that in life, but there's even more evidence that when confronted by the uncertainties of life, we're even less certain about the alternative.

This is what is noir about Cockfighter. The protagonist aspires to a set of values that have no meaning outside his world, one that determines success primarily by a fight between two animals running essentially on the basest of animal instincts. It is a set of values that can only be maintained with a lot of work done for no purpose other than to try to make that particular set of values work, and the strength of character to ignore the obvious consequences of that work: that animals live and die pointlessly (the chickens,) there's little to be gained (a loving cup and maybe a few bucks,) and what little gain there is, is usurped by a few corrupt, powerful individuals (who do nothing of much value with it.)

Of course miker might say "that's just those guys," but I think Cockfighter is meant as metaphor. I could be wrong, but I think Willeford's point was that when confronted with death and the obvious fact that we are all doomed to experience it regardless of our accomplishments in life, most of us come up with notions of honourability, dignity and further, try to impose some element of decision making into the process. None of these notions change the fact that death is the inevitable end of life, and life is all we know.

Not that I ever get that right either, Kerry

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