Re: RARA-AVIS: Re:Most Hard-Boiled?

Date: 19 Dec 2006

You gotta give Jim credit for sticking to his guns, new evidence be damned. He has always insisted that Duhamel alone had the right and power to define the literary genre of "noir" for all time. For instance, here's what Jim wrote in August, 2004:

"The term, as has been discussed here before, was coined by Marcel Duhamel, when he was assigned to develop a mystery line, which he called SERIE NOIR, for the French publisher Gallimard. As the guy who coined the term, he's the guy who set the parameters, and the parameters he set were pretty wide."

Jim never offered Duhamel's own definition in his own words, though; instead, he employed inductive reasoning to interpret Duhamel's definition. Jim filtered the books down to the common elements of "dark and sinister."

Now, Al provides us with Duhamel's own words (which Karin kindly translated) about the elements a reader can expect in one of his noir novels. And nowhere do the words "dark and sinister" appear. In fact, he only discusses content, not atmosphere.

And all of the sudden, Jim knows better than Duhamel, the man he has constantly held up as the ultimate authority on the issue:

"As for Marcel Duhamel's comments, he isn't giving a definition. He's describing the subject matter that readers can expect."

Well, as far as that goes, "dark and sinister" isn't a definition either, just a description of the presentation of "the subject matter that readers can expect." And reader expectations are not a defining characteristic of a literary genre? Isn't the goal of branding, as Duhamel was doing with Serie Noir, to place a common definition in consumers' minds?

"On the evidence of the books published in his line, it's clear that all the thing he brings up aren't in every single book he published. So it can't stand as a definition."

Can't they be a list of elements, each of which, alone or in combination, is sufficient, but not necessary to noir?

"On the other hand, the subject matter, and the way his writers treat that subject matter, sounds dark and sinister to me."

So, after contradicting Duhamel, he's now trying to fold his definition into his own? So "the guy who coined the term" is no longer "the guy who [gets to] set the parameters"? He needs Jim to interpret what he really meant?

Jim has always been fond of quoting Lewis Carroll when accusing others of making words mean whatever they want them to mean (usually while denying that the meaning of words can and do evolve). Is clinging to a definition in the face of its being contradicted by the man he claimed had the sole power to define it any better?


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