Thursday, August 11, 2005

Definitions of noir

The PEN American Center held a panel on International Noir last April, with Jakob Arjouni, Natsuo Kirino, Luc Sante, Paco Ignacio Taibo, and Robert Polito. The panel description says:

"Most American readers are familiar with the notion of noir as “secret history.” From Dashiell Hammett through Chester Himes, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, and on to James Ellroy and Walter Mosley, crime novels inscribed a black-mirror twentieth-century America far more dishonest and bloody than the country of official chronicles. But much as once all politics famously were local, from now on most crimes will be global."

The idea of a secret history is very appealing, especially in the globalized social environment. Crime novels tell an alternate history of today's world, while also opening up relations of power within society. Rigby Reardon of the OSU film program posts on the web a reaction to Jean-Luc Godard's classic film-noir, Alphaville (the film is much more than the film noir and science fiction thriller of its surface narrative, but that's another story). Reardon says, "Godard ends up creating a film noir where international audiences will all be equally lost along with the detective." In some ways that defines the best of international noir fiction--the detective is beset by uncertainties, and the reader as well is denied the reassurance of a crime solved, social balance reestablished, which is a staple of the mystery and crime genre, especially of the best-seller sort. More definitions later.

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