Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Nihilism and Willeford

From: Patrick King (
Date: 17 Sep 2009

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    Oh, I see. There's no distinction to anything. Very helpful, Jim.

    Patrick King

    --- On Thu, 9/17/09, JIM DOHERTY <> wrote:

    From: JIM DOHERTY <> Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: Nihilism and Willeford To: Date: Thursday, September 17, 2009, 10:50 AM



    Re your comments below:

    "It took a lot of word, Jim, but you finally got through to me. As pigeons live in a highway abutment, therefore a highway abutment must be a pigeon hole. In your painstakingly researched definition of noir, what differentiates the type of work that Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford and Cornell Woolrich write from Hammett, Chandler and Spillane for example?"

    What differentiates them are individual styles, themes, characters, etc. But what does NOT differentiate them, however, is whether one set is noir and the other isn't. Because, as it happens, all of them have been published in the SERIE NOIRE line, and all of them have write stories with a dark, sinister atmosphere.

    If you need a word to describe what differentiates the first three authors from the second three, and, moreover, what all of the first three authors have in common, and what all the second three authors have in common, and, moreover, what the first three and the second three do NOT have in common, come up with one. But noir isn't, and never has been, the word that describes that.

    If you want noir to describe the first set but not the second, or the second set but not the first, you will, simply, be using the word incorrectly because all of them have already been included, not by me, but by others who coined the term, as fitting the paramters of noir.

    "According to you they're all noir. But each of the two sets of writers develop plots similar to each other but distinctly different from the other set."

    Which merely means that, since they're ALL noir (and I didn't say that; Duhamel did, and, in a sense, Frank and Chartier did), then whatever noir is, it must NOT be something that describes what the first set has and the second set doesn't, or what the first set doesn't have and the second set does. It must describe something that, no matter how different they are, they all have in common.

    And, whatever the differences, what they all have in common seems to me to be a dark, sinister atmosphere.

    "I guess, if you're right, we need sub-sets of noir. I would say that Thompson, Willeford, & Woolrich are noir, Hammett Chandler & Spillane hard boiled."

    Except that hard-boiled and noir are not mutually exclusive. Nor are they synomous. One can be hard-boiled, or noir, or both, or neither. I would have a hard time calling Vera Caspary's LAURA noir, the presence of Lt. Mark McPherson notwithstanding, but I think it's noir. Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane are both hard-boiled and noir. Richard S. Prather, for the most part, is hard-boiled but not noir.

    "But you, apparently, believe they're all the same."

    Now you're just willfuly misunderstanding me. I never said all noir was the same. I never even said it was all good. All I did was look at the many, many books and films generally classified, not by me but by others, as noir, and tried to discern what they all, different as they were, had in common. And what they seemed to have in common, to me, was a dark and sinister atmosphere.

    You don't think that's it? Come up with something else. But it's not the story of a man discovering a fatal flaw in his character too late to correct it. That's way too narrow.

    And whatever you do come up with, it's got to be broad enough to include Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane as well as Woolrich, Willeford, and Thompson, because they've all already been included in the classification, so if you're definition only includes some of them, it's automatically going to be incorrect.

    "They all write crime fiction as does Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Patricia Cornwall. But I don't see them all as being 'noir' writers. Do you? And if not, where do you draw the distiction? If you draw no distinction between the styles any of these writers, perhaps the conversation is pointless."

    Of course I draw a distinction between noir writers and non-noir writers. And I also draw distinctions within the classifiction of noir. There are differences in style, in approach, in themes, and in quality. But that has nothing to do with what the defining elements of noir fiction are.

    If you need a word to tell you what makes a Willeford different from a Hammett, or a Woolrich different from a Spillane, come up with one. But it's not "noir," because that word is already being used, and has always been used, in a much broader sense.

    Like it or not, in the noir mansion there are many houses.








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