But with arguable exceptions (we ARE generalizing here), your list of books that are taught may use noirish techniques and characteristics but are by definition not noir and it is this distinction that makes my point. Being a "downer" or depicting "losers" or employing dark settings are not what sets noir apart from other genres. What does is not just its failure to transcend, but it's denial of the possibility of transcendence.
"The pursuit of happiness" is all about transcendence, or at least the hope for it. The ability of the individual to rise above his station--the ability of a relatively poor black boy to one day become President of the United States, for instance, or perhaps his ability to make meaningful political change if he does. Steinbeck positively drips with hope for transcendence and the pursuit of happiness. His fiction is about social reform inspired by hope. Hope is Tom Joad's "I'll be there" soliloquey and Lennie's plea to "Tell me again, George."
Orwell's Animal Farm is taught in North American schools, if it still is taught, as a warning against communism, or at least Stalinism. Pretty safe stuff in this neck of the woods, but I doubt they taught it in the Soviet Union. 1984 might be something of an exception, though it too was taught (in my school days, which admittedly were a very long time ago indeed) as a cautionary tale about totalitarianism. I think today Big Brother is mostly seen (not necessarily here) as an avoidable side effect to technological advance. One should remain vigilent for possible symptoms. Shakespeare's tragedies are mostly taught as character studies. Their "losers" are "flawed". Correct the character flaw and MacBeth might be an MBA leadership candidate of tomorrow!
In contrast, Sam Spade is not at all a "loser" in the sense you mean. He achieves his goal in The Maltese Falcon, but he does not transcend his circumsances. Instead, he survives. He remains a hard-bitten man eking out a tough existence, as he was when the book began. He deliberately eschews love and material wealth, classic means of transcendence. He does not try to reform corrupt authorities. He does not try to change anything except to idetify Archer's killer. In the end he hopes for nothing, unless it is to dodge Archer's widow. It is the villains of the piece who pursue happiness throughout in the form of attaining the Maltese Falcon, which represents financial reward, beautiful art, historical significance and spiritual enlightenment. Their folly is that they will do almost anything to obtain the thing that dreams are made of. Dreams, hopes, you tell me the difference. By the end of Hammett's novel I don't think any reader seriously believes the Rara Avis a worthy pursu
You're right however, that students are not generally stupid (though authority figures sometimes are.) Those students who do get Kafka, or the noirish implications of Shakespeare and others in the curriculum, are the students deemed most likely to require (or benefit from, if you insist) further education in order to transcend their ignorance. Education is a major transcendental tool.
I'm sorry to be so pedantic about this. I know many have not, and do not agree with me about the definition of noir (it denies transcendence), and I accept that, but I think many of those disagreeable folks are the ones puzzled about noir's general exclusion from educational curricula.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Saturday, February 28, 2009 8:25 PM
Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: Bloom and Shakespeare
Kerry, I am not so sure that your explanation works (i.e., don't teach
what goes against system, empire, etc.). They do teach Brave New World
and Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, for example. And they teach
Steinbeck, who isn't exactly warm and fuzzy. Cannery Row? The Grapes
of Wrath? And Shakespeare has losers, too, and a healthy dose of
skepticism in the way he (at least sometimes) treats the powerful. And
they teach Franz Kafka, the ultimate downer, but a downer in very
specific ways that portray what happens to man facing the system. In a
way, a nonheroic loser who was already condemned to lose is far more
chilling, far more shocking than a guy who falls down in battle.
Students aren't stupid, they get it...
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