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

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 30 Nov 2006

At 05:16 PM 28/11/2006 -0800, Michael Robison wrote:

>Kerry J. Schooley wrote:
>Approach perhaps, but name the others that deny
>transcendence, please.
>There is no transcendence in tragedy,

In tragedy transcendence is not achieved, but it is not denied. Transcendence is possible, but for the protagonist's fatal character flaw.

> none in Gothic,

In the Gothic, at least originally, evil is located in the landscape, specifically a threatening wilderness or untamed landscape. It has evolved and adapted and influenced in several directions, one of which I'd suggest is noir, in Canada at least, but I think very often there's the suggestion that transcendence is available through the act of civilization.

>none in American Naturalism, and near as I can tell,

In Naturalism there's room for transcendence through the application of the scientific method, leading to understanding of our world. I'm not sure about the Naturalists themselves, but certainly there's a widespread belief that science and technology and learning about the world will allow us to transcend our present conditions.

>the most popular school of writing in the last hundred
>years, realism.

Yes, and here there's an attempt to transcend by breaking existence down into its small details and applying virtuous labels to them. It's a self-defeating concept. For something to be transcendent it must have something to transcend, so it may appear that realism denies transcendence, but the whole idea that, say, work is ennobling is merely the effort to transcend by adding virtue to necessity.

All of these genres do come close, however, and it is difficult to imagine we'd have noir without them.

>And since literature examines the range and grasp of
>human experience, reason, and belief, all those things
>that you say transcendence goes beyond, I'd be
>hard-pressed to find the relevance of the actual
>existence of transcendence in literature. Even the
>American transcendentalists used their philosophy for
>the purposes of examining the range and grasp of human
>experience, so it appears to me that, by the
>definition you gave, even they didn't do much

I know. It seems ridiculous but there's all those books about romance, suggesting love cures all, allowing successful lovers to live happily ever after. Or stories about noble knights slaying dragons or otherwise transcending evil. And the bible, surely at the heart of western literature, suggesting faith will allow you to live in eternal bliss.

Bear in mind, please, that the definition for transcendence isn't mine. The Oxford is a reasonably well respected source of info, I believe. Mind you, it is me suggesting here that what western literature is primarily transcending is the human condition though I've come to that after digging a bit into Northrop Frye. I'll admit I find reading him tough sledding. But I'm still suggesting that noir is the only genre that denies even the possibility of transcendence. Perhaps the existentialists deny it too, but at least one of them used the noir genre to illustrate that.

I presume the American Transcendentalists had some reason for calling themselves that.

And I think you're in trouble if you try to equate survival with transcendence. Mere survival, with its severe limitations, is a major part of what we generally hope to transcend.

There's a hole in the theory, however. Transcendence is possible, if fragile. We do transcend through imagination, though noir might suggest that can be cured with a bullet in the skull. What always gets me is how all this goes back to the bible. Not that I'm a big fan of the whole God in the sky thing, but faith and imagination are pretty close to being the same things, no? If I think or believe I transcend, therefore I do. It's like they had a pretty good handle on human psychology even back then, before science and the rational took over finding the cure for death.

Anyway, that's just me, Kerry

>It is the quest for transcendence that is significant
>in literature, not its existence.
>Do you Yahoo!?
>Everyone is raving about the all-new Yahoo! Mail beta.

------------------------------------------------------ Literary events Calendar (South Ont.) The evil men do lives after them

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