Re: RARA-AVIS: On noir and humor

From: jacquesdebierue (
Date: 20 Jun 2009

  • Next message: terry bowman: "RARA-AVIS: Re: On noir and humor"

    --- In, BaxDeal@... wrote:

    > why Mario, since noir is merely a dark and sinister atmosphere in a select
    > number of French films made a half century ago, none of this can possibly be
    > true

    Ah, the old definition. But a genre based on such flimsy trappings would not have thrived and evolved. Noir novels are far more character-driven than atmosphere-driven. In some cases, they are not even much situation-driven, since the trouble with the protagonist is internal, it's in his or her mind. You can't put a visual-atmospheric definition on something like that. What's the atmosphere of the psyche? I don't know, it certainly has dark places. If you remove assurances (religion, stability, faith in the system), the dark places can take over.

    This psychological stuff is not intrinsically cinematic, though great cinema has been based on it. Nor does it, of itself, call for a particular treatment, nor does it preclude humor. You can have a very laconic noir novel, or a very overblown noir novel. If it's a good novel, the reader will detect immediately that the underlying situation (developing from dark places) is serious, even if there are funny situations interspersed. In other words, we should separate incident from the basic substance of the thing. Readers do that, normally. That is why nobody mistakes a Jim Thompson noir novel for a slapstick work or a parody. The basic substance is scary.

    There is no one technique for tapping the reader's dark places. When it works, it works. And even if you can't really believe in a noir story because the particulars are so overblown, I doubt you would say it's a comic novel. The Burnt Orange Heresy is funny but it is as noir as it gets. You may laugh but you can't forget for a moment what is really happening, and you dread what is going to happen -- there is no doubt that it's going to be bad.


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