Re: RARA-AVIS: Daniel Woodrell on "Noir"

From: Allan Guthrie (
Date: 01 Feb 2009

  • Next message: Michael S. Chong: "Re: RARA-AVIS: Woodrell's list"

    From: "Nathan Cain" <>
    > Wasn't Greek tragedy primarily about kings and other nobles? Oedipus.
    > Antigone. Electra. None of them are lower class figures. That's why
    > I'm puzzled by Woodrell's assertion that "noir" is some sort of
    > underclass thing.

    Woodrell refers to noir as the 'bastard child' of Greek tragedy, not as Greek tragedy. You're sure to have come across the term 'working class tragedy' as a description of noir (I think Lehane first coined the phrase). I'd guess that's what Woodrell means here. Noir is tragedy without the Aristotelian focus on characters who are perceived to have a long way to fall.

    > Also, I'm not really aware of that many noir novels
    > written by actual members of the underclass. James Cain: New York
    > newspaperman. Goodis: College educated ad man. Cornell Woolrich:
    > Attended Columbia, didn't graduate. Died and left the university
    > $850,000. So, he may have lived in a seedy Harlem hotel for most of
    > his adult life, but obviously that was by choice.

    Again, I suspect that Woodrell's talking about content and characters rather than the class of the author. While Goodis, for example, was certainly middle class, his writing was so gutterbound that he even used 'gutter' in one of his titles and there are several scenes where his characters are literally lying in gutters (there's even one in The Wounded And The Slain where the protagonist's stuck in a gutter and can't get out: gutterbound, and then some). James Ross, who Woodrell also cites, wrote the first country noir. Anderson wrote about convicts. Cain wrote about thieves. Etc. Woodrell doesn't mention Woolrich.

    > Woodrell doesn't seem to realize that actual members of the underclass
    > don't spend a lot of time writing books because they're too busy
    > trying to survive.

    I dunno about that. Lot of spare time on your hands in prison. We had a big discussion about this a while back. There'll be lots of names in the archives if you want to look. Although, as I say, I doubt very much that's what Woodrell meant.

    This interview we're discussing is 7 years old, btw. To put this into context, in 2002, noir was a dirty word in publishing in the US (and the UK).


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