RARA-AVIS: Re: Random Notes On Redemption

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 07 Sep 2009

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    Jacques wrote:

    > And what precisely is wrong with nihilism, be it in literature or in
    > real life?

    Nothing, in particular. It's a flavour, like chocolate or vanilla.

    Some people prefer one; some another. And one isn't any more admirable than the other.

    > Let me point out, also, that what one person perceives as nihilism,
    > another may perceive as a stance of integrity, be it Man versus The
    > System or what it takes to survive, or what have you.

    Sure, point all you want. But for an actual definition, Dave's actually given us a pretty good one. Nihilism "(views) traditional values and beliefs (as) unfounded and... existence (as) senseless and useless." Another definition is "a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths."

    So would a real nihilist even give a damn about "integrity"?

    But even then, simply telling someone what one believes wouldn't be any sign of integrity, if one didn't also back it up with words and deeds.

    I've seen far too many self-professed nihilists (and other true believers) whose opinions flop around like a just-landed trout on a lakeside dock, so calling oneself a nihilist isn't necessarily a sign of integrity any more than calling oneself a doughnut.

    Because too often where the faithful make their stand has more to do with where they happen to be sitting at the the time than any deep philosophic, religious or cultural conviction.

    What can I say? I'm just a skeptic (not a cynic). And being a skeptic isn't a sign of integrity, either. It just means I may ask more questions than the devout who think they already have all the answers.

    And Dave wrote:

    > I think anyone who has read James M. Cain's "Double Indemnity" would
    > have to say it takes a nihlistic viewpoint, and I'd argue the same
    > about "Postman Always Rings Twice", and many other noir novels,
    > including those by Jim Thompson, Jason Starr, Charles Willeford, etc..

    Hmmm.... it's been a while since I read them, but I think the two books you cite do have a sort of "fall from Grace" aspect to them, which would suggest that there was, at least at one point, somewhere to fall from (besides a hay truck). That both Frank and Walter fall anyway doesn't deny the existence of some sort of moral truth -- merely that they don't measure up or are too weak (or horny) to resist. So I'm not entirely convinced these two book are completely nihilistic -- just not very optimistic, at least for these particular characters.

    And don't both men at least at one point in each of their respective stories suffer regret and try to escape from the clutches of Phyllis and whatsername (oh yeah, Cora) and get their lives back on track? The fact they both come back with their tails between their legs, more or less, doesn't negate the fact they thought they could stop the freefall of their lives. Doesn't Frank actually cry after murdering Nick?

    But it's that fall that intrigues me; and the possibility, however slight, that there is some sort of escape (or even redemption) that brings it on home. That "there but for the grace of god" thing also helps, which is why I prefer identifiable human beings in my crime fiction.

    Noir novels that start at the nadir of Ground Zero have less place for their characters to fall, dramatically, so they hold less interest for me. I prefer stories with a more clearly defined narrative arc to flat- line wallows, generally.

    But hey, I like maple walnut. You may prefer strawberry ripple.

    Kevin Burton Smith Editor/Founder The Thrilling Detective Web Site
    "Wasting your time on the web since 1998."

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