Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: noir

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 02 Oct 2005

At 02:01 PM 01/10/2005 -0700, you wrote:

>Because that's the root of how the term came to be
>used in the crime genre. If they coined it as a term
>used to identify a particular kind of mystery, then it
>follows that their usage is the correct usage, because
>they were the first to use it. The parameters they
>set are the parameters most people still use. So, if
>you use the word to mean something much more
>restrictive, it follows that you must be using it

Yeah, I understand your argument Jim. I just disagree with it. And I accept that by your definition I am wrong. I can live with that. I don't have to agree with it to value it.

>Writing is a creative activity, but categorizing a
>piece of writing isn't, unless you allow yourself to
>get bogged down in a lot os intellectual bullshit that
>really doesn't have anything to do with the question.

That's where you're wrong. Criticism and categorization are as creative as the original writing itself. There is no ultimate authority to appeal to, in noir or anything else. That (according to my definition) is exactly the point of noir. Just because someone is the first to come up with a term doesn't mean that's the end of the discussion.

And don't give me this BS about you not caring how many angels dance on the head of a pin. You care passionately. You can't leave this discussion alone, by your own admission. You just don't like it when someone comes up with a different number than you do.

>As the folks at Gallimard used it, and as it's been
>used since, noir is ALREADY got pretty extensive
>parameters. In fact that's what you say your problem
>with their use is, it's TOO extensive, so why is a
>writer "extending the definition" a good thing, from
>your perspective. My impression is that you're one of
>those who wants it tight and narrow. And why is noir
>something that has to be "transcended" anyway? Is it
>some kind of trap the writer has to escape from?

Yes, I think your definition is too broad to be useful. Isn't crime and murder itself considered dark in western culture? So what then separates noir from other crime fiction? Tragedy is dark too, atmospherically. So what separates noir from tragedy as well? Even in the classic love-story plot, between meeting and getting the girl, boy briefly loses her. That too could be said to be atmospherically dark. In fact, in western literature plot hinges on conflict. You say it's enough that there are dark atmospherics in the story, but the presence of conflict suggests dark atmospherics in almost every story. I respect your research into the works and sources you site, (and you inspire me to want to do more of that myself, time permitting) but the conclusion you come to regarding the definition is, quite simply, useless.

Now, I didn't say I thought the genre needed transcending. I think I said it was interesting to discuss whether a particular work fell within or without the genre. In fact, in response to the notion that some non-fans of the genre have about noir, I think that by discussing the role the genre plays in the literature of the western world (in my limited understanding of it at least) it quickly becomes evident that the genre does NOT need to be transcended as a vehicle toward understanding the human condition. Quite the opposite. There is plenty of room for examining humanity within the genre, even by my definition, and plenty of room to extend that discussion, showing the many ways in which we are all screwed, or try to avoid that screwing. It's good when a writer extends the definition, even in unexpected ways, because it presents new and exciting ideas, things we hadn't considered before. When this is accomplished, we grow. This is why I value your input, even as I disagree with your definition. But to make this work we have to be able to compare AND contrast with other genres. Simply saying "it's all good" (or even "it's all bad") is pointless, and that's where I think "noir is dark atmospherics, nothing more or less" takes us.

Next time, it's your turn to say "Schooley you ignorant slut," assuming I can afford Wisconsin, and I don't get stopped at the border.

Best, Kerry

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 02 Oct 2005 EDT