Re: RARA-AVIS: willie or not

From: Doug Bassett (
Date: 07 Dec 2006

It depends what you mean by "religion". Defining it narrowly here, as "high falutin mysticism" or, more charitably, "something I would recognize as organized religion" and you have a legitmate point. Hammett is not Chesterson, Chandler is not Hammer.

Although if I remember my Spade and Marlowe, implicit in those characters is a sense that they have a moral weight, a push that sets them apart from their time. It's part of the point. With Hammett it's ambiguously presented; Chandler sets the conventional mold, though; Spillane takes it too a certain logical climax; a guy like Ellroy begins to look at it critically. I would argue from at least THE BIG SLEEP on it's an intrinsic part of this kind of story's makeup. Spillane did not cook up his approach out of thin air; he's a good writer but not that good. I'd argue he emphasized thread that were always there.

Is that religious? I don't know. It's probably something more than "realistic", though. Chandler's not issuing precepts on how to reorganize society; something else is going on. This isn't THIEVES LIKE US. Although even THIEVES has more going on than a
"give the money to the working folk" social realist tract, I'd argue.

I think you mistake the symptom for the disease. The sexual dysfunction is seen as Corruption, basically, and while it admittedly stands out it ain't the only sin on display here. This is more ambiguously presented in Cain and Hammett than Chandler, and there's a lot of complicated reasons for that, but I'd argue it's there nonetheless in all three. (I think, for instance, that Hammett already assumes a fallen world.)

I'm not so sure I'd call these men's work "religious" myself, even by my own lights, as it's rather vague and inchoate. But it's something like that. And that's not even bringing up more straightforward noir writers like Woolrich or Goodis, or books like McCoy's THEY SHOOT HORSES, which all have a deep cosmic sense.


--- Patrick King <> wrote:

> You raise some interesting points. But note, the
> great
> hardboiled and noir writers seldom mention religion.
> Their morality is more obvious than high-falutin
> mysticism. Also, referencing specific belief systems
> was death to publishers until very recently,
> especially in genre literature. In fact it may still
> be. Chesterton and Green are the only two I can
> think
> of who broke that rule yet were more or less
> "successful." The sexual dynamic in Hammett,
> Chandler,
> Spillane, and Cain is very interesting. You drew
> several points from Falcon. Note that with the
> exception of Spade, all the other major male figures
> in the novel are various stereotype homosexuals.
> That's how they avoid Bridget's clutches! Chandler's
> world is full of alcoholics, drug addicts,
> pornographers, sexual sadists, phoney psychics, and
> women with serious psychological damage. All of
> Cain's
> novels are about sex mania. Serenade, probably his
> most interesting on many levels, was way over the
> top
> when he wrote it. It deals with the sexual dynamic
> in
> art and commerce. The protagonist is bi-sexual and
> totally confused on that fact. That he regains his
> sexual and artistic ability in an abandoned church
> during a desert flash flood adds to the symbolism.
> Serenade would make a great movie and today one
> could
> film it without pulling punches. Personally, being
> neither mystical nor superstitious, I don't see
> religion per se being that significant to these
> works.
> I'm sure one can and probably has written Zen or
> Buddhist "noir" novels. Yokio Mishima, for instance
> and Kawabatta. It's about common sense: If lust
> leads
> to theft and murder, you're probably going to have
> problems in any society whatever religion prevails
> in
> it. No culture puts up with this kind of behavior.
> One
> of the most tragic "noir" characters is Pat in
> Recoil.
> This guy is genuinly trying to do well but he can't
> extricate himself from his lousey fate. While he's
> not
> a stupid character, and, in fact, he's very street
> smart, he's not clever enough to see through the
> people who simply can't help him and will ultimately
> destroy him.
> Patrick King
> --- Frederick Zackel <> wrote:
> > I have been lurking during this discussion of
> > transcendence, and I kept
> > wanting to bring up religion. I don't know how
> you
> > can mumble about Western
> > Civ and any element of it without bringing up
> > religion's 3000-year
> > overwhelming stranglehold.
> >
> > So, methinks, a noir protagonist thinks with his
> > willie, and that dooms him.
> > Noir is about morality. The inevitability is,
> well,
> > judgment day. I look
> > at noir writers and I see religion oozing from
> them
> > like January maple
> > syrup. Hammett was a former Catholic, Cain was a
> > gloating Catholic,
> > Spillane created the Hammer of God, and so forth.
> >
> > Hammett created Spade, a blonde devil. Spade is
> also
> > Sisyphus before Camus
> > tinkered with the myth. The Falcon begins with
> Spade
> > in his office and ends
> > with Spade in his office. Spade's only moment of
> > freedom is sending Brigit
> > over. Archer was doomed; he thought with his
> > willie. Spade can transcend
> > his willie. Brigit counted upon Spade being just
> > another guy thinking with
> > his willie.
> >
> > Hammett, a fallen-away Catholic, dead-stops the
> > Falcon so that Spade tells
> > the story of Flitcraft. Flitcraft is a human who
> > encounters Random Chance
> > in a universe he thought was orderly. (That's what
> > Hammett's daughter says
> > about Flitcraft in her biography of her dad, by
> the
> > way.) There is no
> > Intelligent Design. There is no Prime Mover. The
> > Universe is Random Chance.
> > Spade, the gambler, casting his lot with the drop
> of
> > the cards. (Einstein
> > said God doesn't play dice with the universe;
> Spade
> > says, yeah, it's the
> > fall of the dice.) Spade could be telling Brigit
> HE
> > is her Falling Beams,
> > or he could be telling her SHE is his Falling
> Beams.
> > Works both ways, eh?
> >
> > Imagine Sisyphus with a gun.
> >
> > Could there be a Hindu noir novel? A Buddhist
> noir
> > novel? Or only from the
> > Son of Abraham? What is the impact of religion?
> As
> > for the politics, oh, I
> > think the role of politics in noir is a
> red-herring.
> >
> > God, I'm glad I got all this out of me.
> >
> > Fred Zackel
> > author of Cocaine & Blue Eyes
> > c/o Point Blank Press
> >
> > "They are too fast, too quick, they rip our flesh
> > off, rip our arms off.
> > Sometimes it starts with just one. Sometimes they
> > come in a pack. They
> > smell blood and meat, and they rush in and join
> in.
> > There are so many of
> > them everywhere, patroling, cruising, taking,
> > killing." ~ Voltaire
> >
> >
> >
> Do you Yahoo!?
> Everyone is raving about the all-new Yahoo! Mail
> beta.

Doug Bassett

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