Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: On Noir

From: Kukana Fields (
Date: 29 Sep 2005

I've been reading the thoughts concerning the definition of Noir

for the last few weeks with rapt attention. The subject is dear to my heart. And I wanted very much to throw my two cents in, as I believe the discussion is a very important one. If we don't know, and appreciate our traditions, literary or otherwise, how can we preserve them from an environment in the US that is so very hostile to art, literature etc.


Someone mentioned the use of the Noir "label" as a marketing tool,this is unfortunate, but is indicative of how advanced capitalist society treats the arts. It tries to commoditize them like everything else. And to a large degree it's been successful. The end result is the Walmartization of the novel. (And, also, I fear the beginning of the end of the third person in the commercial novel.)


I agreed with much that has been said on the way to a definition but there is one remark, very elegant idea (I apologize for not noting who said it) but it was that noir somehow went beyond the idea of tragedy especially the classical idea of tragedy: being that a great person is fallen by events, some of which are of his own making etc.


I think this break with the old idea of tragedy came last century as part of existentialism, modern notions of psychology, and the new idea of alienation. All these forces-- and others-- come into play as we start the 20th century. And, I think all these forces take us to, and are part of, the important works in the US that we agree form the foundation for American Noir. Thompson et. al.


How did Doom get into the picture-- something that Classical tragedy I don't think contains? Well I believe it was the natural byproduct of the 20th century's great hope-- the advent of modern notions of democracy sold to us by the press etc., and subsequent realization that a lot of this talk of Democracy was a lie. (Today 60% of the American people are against the war in Iraq, yet Bush says we will stay.) This feeling of Doom -- not death-- was produced by the First World War, the birth of Fascism and finally Monopoly Capitalism's war mongering during the Cold War, Vietnam etc.


This whole thing is further complicated by the growth of the science of psychology which is so obviously important to Thompson with his creation of Lou Smith. So we have a duality here: the individual is growing in consciousness during the 20th century and there is social progress, but at the sometime wham, we're hit with forces that are so brutal and disgusting to the human spirit that man sees Doom ahead. The noir character goes right up to Doom and walks through it if you will. That's what I believe Thompson and others did, walked right up to it and held hope up against Doom's face. You see Hope, I believe, has to be part of the equation because it's in man's nature. You can not separate man from hope, that's impossible. So in the end, ironically, I think Noir is about a growth in human awareness/consciousness. I think it means we have a chance. We have hope. It means we're willing to face the ugly things in life and go on from there. OK, so it was four cents.




Dave Zeltserman <> wrote:!)
> But you're not looking for noir in these stories Dave. By your
> you're looking for tragedy in dungarees. If you don't accept noir as
> genre distinct from tragedy, you can't expect to recognize it when
you come
> across it.

I don't get your point, Kerry - I thought in my posts I was making a fairly explicit distinction between tragedy and noir?? Don't quite get the tragedy in dungarees reference either.

Dave Z.

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