RARA-AVIS: Re: Hardboiled and Marxism

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 06 Sep 2006


Re your comments below:

"This is my problem with the idea of hardboiled, or even Hammett, being Marxist lit. While a PI's ironic detachment may lead to his or her seeing a lot of what goes on within capitalist society with skepticism, it does not make him or her a Marxist. Even if the critique of society jibes well with a Marxist analysis, it does not mean a Marsit solution to that corruption is being proposed. Individual capitalists are exposed, and a certain degree of corruption is presupposed, but rarely is the entire system attacked. I can't think of a single PI who is out to foment revolution. Not even Michael Collins's PIs, who often do go on to expose the system itself as corrupt, and not just the individuals within it."

At first blush, the whole notion of a single, heroic individual who uncovers crime and corruption and sets it right seems to be at odds with Marxist philosophy.

But, there are hard-boiled PI writers who are absolutely "in-you-face" about their radical opinions.

Gordon DeMarco's Riley Kovachs is probably the most obvious example. In Kovachs's world, it is the capitalist system, not merely the corrupt individuals operating within it, that's the problem. And Kovachs really does seem to be biding his time 'til the revolution comes.

The political rhetoric is so consistently leftist that the fact that Kovach is, himself, a small businessman, and therefore a capitalist, at least in a small way, though apparently a technical violation of the whole Marxist "anti-individualist/anti-capitalist" premise, seems less a contradiction than a submission to the accepted conventions of the hard-boiled private eye story.

The point here is that, just as it's incorrect to assume that hard-boiled in general, or hard-boiled PI in particular, is inherently lefitist, it's just as incorrect to assume that it's inherently right-wing. It's just a story-telling framework, and works for all political points of view, or NO political point of view.

As for assuming that Gordon DeMarco is a radical leftist just because Kovachs is, Al's assertion that we can't presume an author's opinions from the opinions of his character is objectively hard to argue with. Just the same, I think generally that's the way the smart money would bet.


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