Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: The Long Goodbye

From: Patrick King (
Date: 23 Feb 2007

The moral ambiguity noted in the early hardboiled stories may owe more to what they were an alternative to, than the specific time they were written. Sherlock Holmes and his successors were completely unscrupulous, in that they had few self doubts about the correctness of their proceedures. Frequently Holmes was omnipotent in terms of capturing and punishing a criminal. Note the solution to A Study In Scarlet. These dectective, Holmes, Poirot, Ellery Queen, etc were smarter than anyone else in the room, their deductions were, however far-fetched, always correct, and if they deemed a crime justified the criminal went free. Hammett and Chandler played in a more realistic field. Their characters made frequent errors in judgement, they dealt with criminals who had serious personality disorders. Spillane, of course, goes into a wild-west mode, shooting people out of hand as a first resort, anything to move the story. But Hammett and Chandler were moving detective fiction closer to reality and I think that's what made them popular and why their school was perceived as "new" at that time.

Patrick King
--- Tim Wohlforth <> wrote:

> If I may suggest a slightly different approach to
> this discussion of
> morality and writing. Tom Nolan, in a review of
> crime fiction in the
> WSJ discusses the relationship between private eye
> fiction and the
> era that produces it. After discussing Hammett,
> Chandler, Spillane
> and Macdonald, he says of our times "A lot of
> detective stories in
> the first years of the new century show wobbly
> emotion and crippling
> self-doubt ...they depict several types of
> ambiguity." This is
> interesting. It may even be true. However, this kind
> of observation
> suggests, rather than discussing whether fiction has
> to be moral (or
> is immora) or better stated amoral), we should be
> discussing what the
> inevitable moral implcations of fiction tell us
> about the times we
> live in (or past writers write in.)
> Tim
> On Feb 22, 2007, at 4:55 PM, Michael Robison wrote:
> > Mike wrote:
> >
> > And as a minor matter I certainly wouldn't turn to
> > Oscar Wilde for advice on morality of any sort let
> > alone the uses or morality in literature.
> >
> > **********
> > Haha. What was his comment? Something about books
> > being neither moral nor immoral? I can see two
> > reasons for this. First, since art is open to
> > multiple interpretations, its meaning is
> sufficiently
> > ambiguous to preclude an objective moral or
> immoral
> > character. Second, since art does not act itself,
> it
> > can't be moral or immoral because morality
> involves
> > action.
> >
> > Now I don't view either of these reasons as being
> the
> > most silly thing I've ever heard, but neither do I
> > find them entirely satisfying. As far as the first
> > reason, it is true that art is to an extent open
> to
> > personal interpretation, but I disagree with the
> > reader-response theory that a book means whatever
> a
> > reader wants it to. It's a small step from the
> idea
> > that a book can mean anything to it meaning
> nothing.
> > With meaningful interpretation strapped with at
> least
> > some kind of limitation, it's not unreasonable to
> > assume that the range of interpretation may all
> lay
> > within either a moral or immoral zone. As far as
> the
> > second reason limiting moral nature to actions, I
> > would note that words express ideas and ideas have
> > consequences which are pretty damned close to
> actions.
> >
> >
> > miker
> >
> >
> > Any questions? Get answers on any topic at
> > Try it now.
> >
> >
> [Non-text portions of this message have been
> removed]

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