Re: RARA-AVIS: Cain and Hammett

From: William Ahearn (
Date: 02 Oct 2007

--- "Kerry J. Schooley" <> wrote:

> Sorry William. We can both admire and appreciate The
> Maltese Falcon,
> but you just don't get it.

With all due respect, we'll just see about that.
> Though he inspired Marlowe, Spade is a different
> character entirely.
> Marlowe is the romantic, lone knight. He rescues the
> damsels from
> their dragons, even if he doesn't marry them and
> live happily ever
> after. Well, he's a bit sexually confused, like his
> creator and many
> romantic heroes.
> But Spade is not confused. He saves no one from
> anything, except
> himself from playing the sap. He neither stops nor
> corrects anyone's
> behaviour. He doesn't care about them. At best he
> avenges his
> partner's death, but only because to do otherwise
> would be bad for
> business. Spade logically repudiates all notions of
> romantic
> transcendence. Get used to it, he says, this is the
> real world, and
> this is what it takes to survive in it.
> You get nowhere just lumping all the tough-guys
> together. Marlowe is
> the tough-talking but romantic searcher. Spade is
> condemned to live,
> briefly as the rest of us, in a world without love.
> If you don't
> think that's screwed, if you think I'm the one doing
> the fudging,
> then be careful not to bend over in a public
> washroom.

My, my, the lady doth protest too much. First of all, for all your angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin hair-splitting, all I said was that they both functioned in the books as heroes. Yes, Molly had a yellow Mustang and Gertrude had a red T-Bird but they both drove cars. Your distinctions make no difference in how the narrative functions.
> And please refrain from suggesting that I said Spade
> is not a hero.
> What I said was that he could only be a hero in a
> different kind of
> literature. That would be noir literature. With all
> due respect, I am
> tired of reading posts that try to paint over noir
> with a romantic
> varnish.

I've had some pretty serious "discussions" with people on this list and yet I don't think a one of them would ever suggest that I ever used a romantic varnish for anything. (Although I do believe Marlowe is trying to get yours out of his hair.) What you don't get is that Spade doesn't exist in noir literature. He isn't screwed. That's the whole point. This isn't on the level of tracking activity with a particle accelerator. It's very simple. He's a hero and he succeeds in the end. Whether he has a pure or tainted vision is window dressing. Whether he's personally conflicted (as they say these days) is irrelevant. It may be what makes the hero interesting but he remains just that. Yes, he operates in a corrupt world but that doesn't make it noir. It is you that is applying the varnish. You're trying to take the surroundings and defining the character by it when the reverse is true. That's what separates hard-boiled from noir and yes, in that regard Hammer, Spade, Marlowe are heroes. And yes, they can only operate is a sick and corrupt world. But that's the nature of the hard-boild genre.


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