RARA-AVIS: Re: Most Hard-Boiled?

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 19 Dec 2006


Re your comments below:

"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.'"

Since Duhamel never gave a definition, the only way to derive one was to infer it by the common elements of the books published under his logo. Those common elements were, and are, a dark and sinister atmosphere.

"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."

But nowhere does he say what a reader can expect from EVERY book in the series. On the contrary, he makes it clear that the books will vary in content and in approach. So he doesn't specifically state what they all have in common. Consequently, while it's useful to readers in giving them an idea of what to expect, it doesn't, and clearly isn't intended, to stand as a definition.

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

He was, and still is. Nothing he said contradicted my defintion. Nothing in my definition contradicts what he said. On the contrary, they support each other.

". . . 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.'"

"Dark and sinister atmosphere" is a definition to the degree that it applies to all works in the category. It's not a description of the subject matter, but a description of the way in which the subject matter is handled.

And that's the key. All the things that Duhamel talked about, while admittedly less likely to appear in a traditional mystery (i.e. "cozy"), have been used in cozies. Conseqently, there's nothing in the subject matter he describes, per se, to distinguish what is being published under the SERIE NOIR logo from traditional mysteries. Yet it clearly IS distinct from the traditional mystery. So what is it that makes it distinct. The tone and atmosphere with which the subject matter is presented.

"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?"

Sure they are. But, as mentioned above, the subject matter Duhamel describes isn't limited to noir or hard-boiled, so it must NOT be what defines noir or hard-boiled. If it's not what defines noir or hard-boiled, something else must be the defining element.

I think that defining element is a dark and sinister atmosphere. Nothing Duhamel said indicates that I'm wrong about that. In fact, since the whole thrust of his statement is that the APPROACH to the subject matter will be different that what readers can expect from a traditional mystery, since the traditional mystery may very well be treating precisely the same subject matter, but Duhamel makes it clear that he's doing something different from the traditional mystery.

"'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?"

There a list of elements that are more common in noir, but not exclusive to noir. And they're not common to all the books in his line, they must, alone or in combination, support the element or elements that all the books in his line DO have in common. And what they all seem to have in common is a dark and sinister atmosphere.

"'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?"

I never contradicted Duhamel, and nothing he said contradicts me. He coined the term. The parameters are set by the books he chose to publish in that line.
 What the books he chose to publish have in common must be the defining element.

He doesn't need me to interpret what he "really" meant, because he said what he meant clearly. But he wasn't giving an over-arching definition, because he wasn't, and makes clear that he wasn't, describing elements that can be found in each book in the line. Nothing in Duhamel's statement contradicts my defintion, and, if anything, his statement seems to support my suggested definition.

On the other hand, nothing in Duhamel's statement supports Jack's definition that calls for the protagonist, in ALL cases, to wind up screwed. In fact, as I said, his statement supports my suggested definition far more than it does Jack's

"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?"

Nothing in my definition contradicts Duhamel's statement. Nothing in Duhamel's statement contradicts my definition. On the contrary, Duhamel's statement supports my definition, and my definition supports his statment. I'm not resorting to the Lewis Carrol technique when I say so. His statement, taken in conjunction with the books he chose, indicates a treatment of the subject matter he describes that gives the books a dark and sinister atmosphere.

What is there in his statement that conclusively contradicts my definition. The fact that the words
"dark and sinister" don't appear? In order for his statement to contradict mine, it would have to follow that the subject matter he was describing was something other than "dark and sinister," something virtually opposite of "dark and sinister." Clearly the material he decribes isn't something OTHER than
"dark and sinister." So where's the contradiction you claim is so obvious?

So all you have on your side is the fact that, in a promotional statement, Duhamel somehow neglected to use the words "dark and sinister atmosphere." Words may evolve, bu "contradict" hasn't evolved to the point where the failure to use a word or phrase somehow amounts to a denial of the word or phrase.

On the other hand, nothing you've said indicates that the word noir, as applied to a certain kind of crime fiction, has "evolved" to the point that it always means the protoganist is screwed. Certainly there's nothing in Duhamel's statement that indicates that this was what he intended the word to mean.

On the other hand, nothing you've said proves that this is what readers or viewers universally expect when they read a book designated as noir, or see a film noir. Nothing you've said proves that this is what most people commonly accept it to mean. Nothing you've said indicates that this is what scholars of the genre mean when they use it. Nothing you've said proves anything other than that you want noir to mean something more narrow and constrained than it traditionally has or is commonly understood to mean now.

I'm not insisting that noir means what I want it to mean. I'm insisting that the common elements in the widely varying books that were and are published under the SERIE NOIR logo, to the degree that those common elements can be discerned, must be the defining elements of this particular sub-category of crime fiction. To me, those common elements seem to be a dark and sinister atmosphere. Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that the definition of noir is a piece of crime fiction with a dark and sinister atmosphere. Maybe I'm wrong about what the common elements are, but nothing you've said indicates that I am. But how I draw my conclusion, by attempting to discern the common, and therefore definitional, elements seems a reasonable method for coming to a conclusion.

You have yet to propose another method other than, "A nihilistic crime story in which the protagonist ends up screwed is the kind of story I'm looking for, so that's what I want 'noir' to mean."

Which of us is applying the Lewis Carroll doctrine?


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