Re: RARA-AVIS: can noir writers advocate social reform?

From: Patrick King (
Date: 24 Nov 2006

You miss argueably the most important: Jim Thompson. By all accounts Thompson definitely had a political agenda. Note especially A Hell of a Woman, The Grifters and The Killer Inside Me. Apparently, Thompson's father was a corrupt Oklahoma sheriff. Thompson was humiliated by that fact his entire life, much as Ellroy is by the murder of his mother.
--- Jay Gertzman <> wrote:

> I had always believed that noir describes, gives
> reality checks, and
> faces clearly the power of violence, predatory
> behavior, and
> self-deception. No one is relieved of guilt or moral
> compromise.
> Therefore the sinister, brooding atmosphere it
> projects. But recently I
> read Steve Lopez's 1994 novel _Third and Indiana_,
> about the organized
> drug trade in Philadelphia, set in the "badlands"
> section of
> Kensington. It has all the ingredients of noir:
> young teens trapped in
> the distribution system and unable to escape from
> the sadistic drug
> lord, except when he murders them b/c he suspects
> them of shorting him,
> or just wants to spread terror. It's very good about
> the social
> injustice, governmental hypocrisy (hiding
> indifference behind propaganda
> about "a war on "drugs" and "super-predators"), and
> newspaper priorities
> that focus on sensational thefts but ignore the
> suffering of the decent
> but poor residents who lose sons and daughters to
> addiction, or murder
> at the hands of the organized criminals. But Lopez's
> moving and tragic
> ending is clearly designed to make readers take
> action: with
> melodramatic eloquence, Lopez incites, even shames,
> his readers. I
> assume that this, then, is a proletarian and polemic
> novel of social
> protest, therefore not noir and not hardboiled (in
> that hardboiled has
> connotations of noir). It does not (at least at the
> end) project that
> sinister, brooding, resigned noir aura. I assume
> that novelists who can
> be called noir, like Cain, McCoy, Algren, Dahlberg,
> Fante, or Benjamin
> Appel are not social reformers or proletarian
> novelists inciting to
> social change, and that social reformers like James
> T Farrell, John Dos
> Passos or Michael Gold, however much they deal with
> evil, the criminal
> underclass, and political corruption, cannot be
> considered noir or
> hardboiled. Does this distinction make sense?
> [Non-text portions of this message have been
> removed]

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