RARA-AVIS: Re: Existential and all that

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@sbcglobal.net)
Date: 16 Nov 2008

  • Next message: davezeltserman: "RARA-AVIS: Re: Existential and all that"

    Prof. T wrote:

    > But does great fiction necessarily produce relevant ideas and new
    > directions? I am thinking of guys like Faulkner... Or, in our genre, I
    > don't think Chandler, Hammett and other acknowledged masters
    > contributed much in terms of ideas and directions, though they did
    > capture the moods and ways of their contemporary societies, of course.

    Although it could be argued that the hard-boiled worldview and dimestore cynicism so evident of many on this list (and American society at large?) is directly attributable to a deep immersion through literature, pulps, comic books, films and television in the genre we love -- and all it has subsequently spawned. A lot of folks seem to want to be (or think of themselves as) world-weary, wise- cracking Bogies, whether they have the intellectual and philosophical chops (or even gaudy patter) to pull it off or not. The whole American myth of the cowboy has been largely superceded by the myth of the
    "down those mean streets" private eye, particularly among males.

    So you might say hard-boiled fiction not only captured a certain mood, but spread it.

    Look at how early private eyes were often presented in the genre: jolly, happy-go-lucky con artists like Cohen's Jim Hanvey and Latimer's Bill Crane and whiz bang great but eccentric detectives like Holmes et al. But after the success of Hammett and particularly Chandler, glib geniality was pretty much gone from the P.I. sub-genre, with a few notable exceptions.

    Dark left its mark, and we're still in it.

    The outright hostility sometimes expressed on lists like this by the more-miserable-than-you crowd toward any sort of light in the genre is telling. Unless clearly marked as humour (and preferably "black humour"), I'm not sure many self-confessed noir-thinking readers on this list would accept such lightness in their heroes.

    And authors play to it as well. Chandler's author and publicity pics had him looking literary (one even has him posing with a cat!), but that probably wouldn't fly these days. He'd probably be forced to pose with a bottle of hooch and a gun.

    A lot of current "hard-boiled" author photos try to make their subject look like a grim-faced extra in a DeNiro gangster flick. (My own attempt to look like a he-man tough guy on my blog photo failed miserably -- I think I look like a drunk who fell asleep on the bus and just woke up, wondering if his stop was fifteen blocks ago...).

    It's exactly like romance authors posing for their photos, heavily glamoured up, sporting two tons of hair on their heads and their bodies wrapped in miles of flowing silk. It's just playing to a fantasy, is all.

    Or maybe I played hockey too many times without a helmet.

    Kevin Burton Smith http://thrillingdetectiveblog.blogspot.com
    "I blog; therefore I am."

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