Re: RARA-AVIS: Random Notes On Redemtion

Date: 03 Sep 2009

  • Next message: Mark Sullivan: "RE: RARA-AVIS: Random Notes On Redemtion"


    What you've defined as a lack of redemption might be loosely equated with "doomed" or "screwed," which is what most (but not all, Jim D) on the list accepted as the defining characteristic of noir, not hardboil. Jim's definition of hardboil (tough and colloquial) was widely accepted, as was the observation that noir and hardboil are not the same things though they certainly overlap. For noir I personally prefer the term non-transcendent, meaning, mostly, not spiritually transcendent, and have come to accept that most list members do not want to revisit discussions about the subtle differences between the terms.

    I also understand that these terms haven't generally received the careful consideration beyond RARA AVIS that they have within, and also also that, when it comes to marketing, if it will sell books savvy publishers can and should apply any label that will work, even if it takes a crowbar and a tube of vaseline to make the fit.

    Regardless of any debates we've had, however, I think it was generally accepted on RA that these definitions applied within the "crime" genre, or what used to be known as the "mystery" genre (and still is in some circles.) Dostoyevsky's work certainly fits within the crime genre, but the redemptive qualities of Brothers and C&P eliminates them from being labelled noir, in my books. I doubt they could be defined as "tough and colloquial", though I'd like to be persuaded. I agree Dostoyevsky has influenced noir and hardboil, however.

    When it comes to mistaking "genre" for "junk", that strikes me as an old battle, and one that's largely been overcome. I don't think there are many, if any, serious critics who don't recognize the literary merits of Hammett, Chandler, Thompson, Cain, and their ilk, through to and including Sallis (noir authors all.) It is just too obvious to miss; failing to appreciate it suggests that the right books haven't been read, or at least read with an open mind. If there's an academic out there who still uses the word "literary" to mean "good" and "genre" to mean "bad", I'd have no problem recommending students attend some other school.

    Best, Kerry

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: James Michael Rogers
      Sent: Thursday, September 03, 2009 10:10 AM
      Subject: RARA-AVIS: Random Notes On Redemtion

        Since we've been on a high-faulutin' kick lately, what with talk of Pynchon and Nobels and Pulitzers, I thought I'd throw out a half-conceived question.

      I'm sure we all have been in situations where we are asked about "good" writers and are made to feel like dullards because we dig crime fiction and, as all right minded folks know, that is just sensationalistic genre junk. If you're anything like me your default comeback line is "Well, what about Dostoyevsky then? Is that just genre junk? It is sensational, but how does that detract?"

      Without Dostoyevsky, I don't think you get to any Celine, any Jim Thompson, or any Charles Willeford. Certainly you don't get to James M. Cain.

      What Dostoyevsky adds though, and the HB guys avoid, is any redemptive note. _Brothers Karamozov_ and _Crime And Punishment_, though as dark as one gets have sort of happy endings (Sort of. In the mystical, Catholic sense).

      But in the case of just about all of the big guns of hard-boiled fiction, that note is unsounded. Marlowe ( and his imitators) is always personally injured by his solution of the case. Ned Beaumont gets the girl, but at a horrible price. Thompson and Cain (the most Dostoyevskian) speak for themselves. No light anywhere.

      So I guess the question is...."Is this a strength or a weakness in HB fiction?" I suppose that this came up for me because I was re-reading John Gardner's book _On Moral Fiction_ in which he suggests that too much focus on the ugliest aspects of experience diminishes the writers respect for the human condition ( I think this was what james Ellroy was getting at when he said Tarantino's movies were "childish"). I'm inclined to agree with him, on balance, yet that doesn't reduce the emotional power of the authors I just mentioned.

      Like I say, this is kind of a half-baked notion of mine and maybe a boring one. But I'd be interested to hear what, if anything, you guys think.


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