Re: RARA-AVIS: Types of noir (was Re: Pop. 1280)

From: Michael Robison (
Date: 02 Aug 2007

Allan Guthrie wrote:

I take your point about THE BIG HEAT. Retrospectively, it probably isn't noir, but as you're reading the book you're immersed in a corrupt and brutal world where the protagonist loses his wife to a car bomb and goes rogue because he can't get justice any other way. In the moment, it feels like noir.

**************** Kinda hinges on how much you weigh the outcome. Does the protagonist have to be totally screwed in the end
(the Jack Bludis understanding), or can a prevailing air of nastiness and doom throughout, Jim's dark and sinister, carry the day? I'm sorta greedy in that I gotta tendency to want it all, both dark and sinister and screwed, but I have to admit there are books, like The Big Heat, where the prevailing mood seems enough. The Black Dahlia is an example. Charles Williams's Scorpion Reef is another.

Like many here, I'm not overly concerned about the definition of noir other than to establish a foundation for discussing it, but there is a vast difference between the Jack and Jim definitions, one of mood and one of fate. I am satisfied with recognizing who believes what when I read a post, and adjusting the context accordingly.

Something I didn't get to mention yesterday and I'll just mention briefly because it's morning and I want to sit on the porch and drink coffee and read Connelly's Chasing the Dime: I have seen very few developments in noir. At the core it remains the same. That is not a complaint, but a compliment. Noir evokes powerful and universal themes. But one interesting variation I see relates to The Big Heat if we can call it noir, and that is a branching of noir over the first twenty years with a tendency to lessen the accountability of the protagonist for his situation, to more enoble him and make him a victim of circumstance. If he did transgress, it was not for totally selfish reasons. I see Build My Gallows High as an example.


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