I'm not sure that I disagree much with Jacques. It's more a case of rhythm- where to put the emphasis on the beat. For instance, I don't disagree that moral codes are seldom personal. In hardboiled fiction however, they are often personal. It's all part of that lone-knight ethic, but, personal or public, they can all be "skewed," as you say. In fact, as you don't say, they are doomed to be skewed. Any code that expects to transcend human nature carrys the seeds of its own failure. So some noir characters may fail because they lack, or fail to follow a moral code. Others fail because of their own fallabilities but all inevitable fail because they run up against circumstances or conditions for which their moral code is inadequate. And then there's those that succeed for a while by following their own codes (Parker.)
The world is a place of rapid change and random activity. Moral codes try to counteract that and provide stability so people can do something more than merely struggle to survive. This works a little bit for a little while, and it's remarkable what is accomplished given the odds, but inevitably it comes apart and there's need for renewal. Actually, there's renewal whether a need is percieved or not- another source of noir stories though noir is mostly about the fact that, at any given point, moral codes only work a little bit, but are quickly corrupted by human nature. The "little while" bit is where I disagree with you, that "screwed" is adequate even as a short-hand definition for noir. Close, maybe even gets the cigar but you're not allowed to light up.
I believe that behind every noir narrative is the certainty of death. Romanticism overlooks this. It's characters live happily ever after. The certainty of death is one of the reasons why noir is a subgenre of crime fiction. The crime is almost always murder and/or the protagonist and antagonist are almost always risking their lives and/or threatening the lives of others. People die, cultures die and moral codes die along with them. Change, adaptation, comes mostly with inter-generational renewal but people are doomed. In romantic hardboil the crime is solved, the criminal caught and punished and the world is a better place. In noir the crime may or may not be solved, the criminal may or may not be caught and punished and the protagonist may or may not survive, but if the protagonist survives something is lost. Either she/he is diminished or the character's ongoing diminished state becomes apparent.
This is why, to me, noir is thematic, and needs to be characterized as non-transcendent. Individual failure, screwed because of a lack or failure of morality, is tragedy. In tragedy the door to transcendence is left open for those who learn the lesson of the tragedy and live proper moral lives. Their reward, perhaps, is in heaven or earthly righteousness. But noir precludes this. Moral codes do not and cannot transcend the nature of our existence. Righteousness is hypocritical.
I'm sure we'll hear from Jim about now that noir is mostly atmospherics. That's fine. Jim makes it work for him. It just doesn't work for me and in the long run, these theories are as doomed as we are, and as the novel and books in general are.
----- Original Message -----
From: Jack Bludis
Sent: Thursday, August 12, 2010 6:46 AM
Subject: RARA-AVIS: Noir -- Penzler, Kerry and MRT
Not sure about the conflict between what Kerry Schooley says and what Jacques Debierue (MRT) says.
I agree with Kerry that the screwed character of noir may have a moral core but it gets skewed, most often by money or the femme fatale. And yes, the PI novel is romantic fantasy.
MrT says of the moral code, "... such codes are rarely personal but instead are largely societal." I've never heard that before, but it seems right on target. Chandler's entire description of the private-eye in his famous essay points directly to the judeo-christian ethic.
Yes, just "Screwed" is shorthand for noir, but it does describe the protagonist of such fiction. The absolute evil protagonist is not noir at all, but something entirely different.
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