Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Spillane and misogyny

Date: 09 Jul 2006

Jim wrote:

"The one thing Spillane HAS done is stand the test of time. I THE JURY is still one of the top-selling mysteries ever printed. Virtually everything he's ever written is still in print. He's still written about, studied, and argued over."

Given how much Spillane sold in the '50s and early '60s (then second only to the Bible in all time sales, as I recall reading somewhere), his sales can coast a long time and he'll still be up there. But weren't the Hammers out of print in the US for a while before the somewhat recent omnibus editions (and weren't a lot of those almost immediately remaindered -- I know there were stacks of them very cheap in my local Borders -- assumedly because sales did not meet presumed demand)?

However, you're making a big "test of time'' assumption that was recently touched on here -- are sales the test of time? If so, literary valuation fluctuates all over the place. Or is it the determination of experts? And if so, what experts, scholars, fans, other writers? Each is likely to get you different answer. (And, if I were honest, I'd have admit I too often shift between the various points of view to fit whatever point I am trying make.)

Personally, I see problems with each theory, not to mention with the test of time notion itself -- I refuse to believe that I am reading the same One Lonely Night, for instance, that was read in the '50s, even if the same words are on the pages. (Similarly, there's a big difference between Spillane writing setting books in the '50s contemporaneously and, say, Max Allan Collins doing it in retrospect.) When I enter a world where men wear fedoras matter of factly, I respond to it as either nostalgia or history (or both), choose to enter into the spirit of the times or translate it to my own (as when I consciously inflate the takes in old Richard Stark/Parker books). No matter how much I may study the cultural context of a time, I am at best approximating the mindset of a contemporary reader, and distancing myself from the book in trying to approximate it; however, if I don't do that, I am reading it as if it were printed today. Now as a reader for pleasure, that is what I would most likely do, but that means reading it differently than the original readers did. So, even if I enjoy it, has it really stood the test of time, implying it has some universality that transcends time, or has it proved itself malleable to a different time?

Damn, I must be feeling existential today. So much for my not intellectualizing.


ps -- And for the record, in my earlier email, I said I tried to get over the snobbishness too often interwoven with intellectualism, not intellectualism itself. Not that you said otherwise, Jim, but you implied that the two might be synonymous when you joked that I would hate One Lonely Night if I held on to any intellectual (and by further implication, pinko) leanings.

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 09 Jul 2006 EDT