RARA-AVIS: Hammett's Marxism

From: juri.nummelin@pp.inet.fi
Date: 05 Sep 2006

I don't think it's possible that Hammett wouldn't have been at least some sort of a Leftist when he wrote his early novels (meaning that he just didn't turn into a Marxist overnight after having met Lillian Hellman), so it's altogether plausible to seek Marxist writing in RED HARVEST.

I also think that it's entirely possible to discuss things in Marxist terms even though one is not a strict Marxist, or even a Marxist at all - just look at what Marx himself says of Balzac. One can argue, of course, that this is just imposing on Marx's part. Marx himself detested propagandistic fiction, as did other Marxist scholars like Georg Lukacs. (Marx would've probably loved Chandler and Hammett.)

Jim Doherty points out that there are several hard-boiled authors that are very anti-Leftist: Spillane, Prather, Warren Murphy. Jim probably kicks my butt for saying this, but even though I like some of Spillane, Prather and Murphy, I don't find them very humane writers. Spillane is quite far from humane and something I'd call understanding of human reactions, and Prather, while very funny at his best, is not really interested in real people's actions. Must add, though, that I've only read Murphy's Destroyers.

But let me add still that I don't think it's necessary for a writer to be good to have Marxist or even Leftist leanings. (And that the perspective on these matters is different from a welfare country like Finland and a country like the USA and there's no need to see Marxism only in subversive, revolutionary and anti-establishment terms. I point this out, because we once had an off-list argument about this with Jim.)


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