Re: RARA-AVIS: Noir Manifesto

Date: 28 Oct 2005

I finally read Stansberry's Noir Manifesto. I must say I was impressed. And for pretty much the same reasons miker was skeptical.

As for the supernatural in Poe, I think Stansberry was noting that Poe's few works of ratiocination clearly take place in the same world as the rest of his work, which is more obviously concerned with the supernatural. And even a detective's inductive reasoning contains leaps of faith and intuition that go beyond the natural. For instance, I find it very hard to think of a story where the murderer is an escaped orangutan as a story of logic. No matter how logical Dupin's thinking may have been in determining that, he had to open his mind beyond the normal to even conceive of that explanation.

However, I think focusing on Stansberry's use of the word supernatural takes the focus off the essay's main contribution, a need to replenish noir by rebuilding it from the bottom up, which miker addresses:

"I was also skeptical about the idea of breaking away from the shackles of the genre. That kind of talk always makes me nervous. Literature has been stuck on one plot for thousands of years, the struggle of man to prevail, and near as I can tell, it's still a vital and viable story."

I certainly didn't get the impression that Stansberry was claiming it wasn't "still a vital and viable story," just the opposite. Instead, I took him as saying that too much of current crime fiction puts more effort into meeting and upholding strict genre conventions than with exploring the struggle of the characters, is more interested in the plot moving the characters along than in having the characters' struggles move the plot.

And I think he chose good examples of books that break from the straitjacket that genre conventions can become. For instance, I doubt anyone would quibble with Denis Johnson's Angels being called noir, under any of the definitions in our recurring debate, but it seems to treat genre conventions as a starting point, not an end point. The same could be said of the other mentioned examples I have read, Auster's City of Glass trilogy, Manchette's two books that have been translated into English (damn, I wish someone would translate more), and I'd add Marc Behm's Eye of the Beholder (is the movie as bad as I've heard? I've steered clear of it), Derek Raymond's Factory series, Jack O'Connell's Quinsigamond series (does he have anything new on the horizon?), the best of Ken Bruen, among others. These writers are not messing with conventions for no reason, they just refuse to color inside of the lines just because someone said they should. And they're coming up with some very interesting pictures, not just because they are using new angles, but because of how those new angles offer a new perspective on and insight into that old "vital and viable story."

Ironically, I don't think Stansberry's Confession, the only thing I've read by him so far, succeeds in doing this. While I certainly found it very readable, I did not find it particularly deep, and certainly not transgressive. I thought it rested on a fairly obvious gimmick that was better handled in Dorothy Hughes's In a Lonely Place. Because of that, I was very surprised by the controversy its award provoked. Why was it thought unusual, even bad, to tell the story from that perspective, especially since the character was never really sympathetic?


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 28 Oct 2005 EDT