Sunday, November 07, 2010

Noircon Day 3: The Tremor of Highsmith

Back when I read Patricia Highsmith's The Tremor of Forgery, I noted one critic's suggestion that Highsmith had abandoned character almost entirely for the political by the time she wrote the book.

I suspect Highsmith biographer Joan M. Schenkar might disagree; she took a more personal approach in her talk Saturday at #Noircon2010. Schenkar stressed the importance of forgery in Highsmith's fictional world, for example, particularly in the person of Tom Ripley, protagonist of The Talented Mister Ripley plus four additional novels and a number of film adaptations.

The Tremor of Forgery, Highsmith tells us, is the slight shake that even the most expert forger produces at the beginning and the end of his false signatures. A novel whose title conceit undermines a theme so important in the writer's work? Sounds pretty personal to me.

Even better: The novel's murder weapon — if indeed the victim has been killed — is a typewriter and the protagonist/killer a writer. The machine, Schenkar says, is identical to Highsmith's own, a typewriter the author treasured. (The apparent murder renders the machine inoperable, an especially suggestive state of affairs.)
***
Later, fellow Noircon attendee Richard Edwards interrupted a Star Wars techie chat with Mike "Cashiers du Cinemart" White that had begun in a hotel bar long ago and far away and offered welcome news: Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir, the podcast series Edwards hosted with Shannon Clute, will resume this summer. Unfortunately, their Behind the Black Mask: Mystery Writers Revealed series is not coming back.
***
Overheard at the hotel bar: "Bitch-slapping the synapses of your brain," upon which another fellow attendee, knowing what I do for a living, asked, "Does bitch slapping take a hyphen?"

(To which I should have replied: "Bitch-slapping takes a hyphen — and likes it." )

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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13 Comments:

Anonymous David Goodis said...

Peter, you are the verbal Weegee of our times. Like Arthur Fellig, you never disappoint and always come across with the "goods" on the Noir! Long may you continue to capture and expose the wonderful underbelly of Noir.

November 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

David! It's good to hear from you. I hope you're well wherever you are these days.

November 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And it's a high honor to be mentioned to be shoved into the same sentence as the talented Mr. Weegee.

November 07, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I've always been a huge admirer of yours so your ability to communicate with the dead (David Goodis) doesn't surprise me in the least.

But I have to confess to a little confusion. I've heard of flights being cancelled, I've heard of cheques being cancelled (God knows, I've cancelled a few myself) but the idea of self-cancellation is new to me.

Is self-cancellation a synonym for suicide that I haven't heard before? If it is, who invented it? Big Brother, perhaps?

Peter, really, what a disgusting term! Try to remember you're a Canadian, not a Nazi.

The first movie version of The Talented Mr Ripley was Plein Soleil by Rene Clement back in 1961. But that movie ended with Ripley being arrested by the police, unlike the novel where Ripley sailed off into the sunset like a conquering hero. Back in '61 even the French were slaves to convention.

I'm weird enough to prefer Highsmith's nihilistic ending to the Plein Soleil ending but I'm curious to know if any writer got there before Highsmith in presenting the murdering sociopath as victor in the games we humans play.

November 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You neglected to mention that self-cancellation sounds like something a well-mannered stamp would do to save labor at the post office.

I was going to write "self-abnegation," but I thought that sounded pretentious, and it's not quite what I was getting at. I meant not self-denial, but rather something like suicide -- and murder, too, I suppose. Highsmith has her protagonist use the tool with which he creates his art as an instrument of violence and, in the process, destroy that instrument. Since the typewriter was apparently identical to Highsmith's own, the temptation to see the character's act as a kind of surrogate murder or professional suicide is plausible.

I suppose I need a term somewhere between self-denial and suicide, and I'm not familiar enough with the lexicon of psychology or nihilism to know the right one.

"The Tremor of Forgery" is my only acquaintance with Highsmith, so I can't comment on her endings versus those of film versions. But the suggestion of a nihilistic ending to "The Talented Mr. Ripley" seems at least related to that of "The Tremor of Forgery."

A session immediately after Joan Schenkar's looked at film adaptations of the Ripley novels, including the Clement movie. The question of its ending did not come up, though.

November 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't believe that spirits speak through us, so I figured out without too much trouble that this David Goodis is really the man who organized Noircon. Noircon grew out of an event dedicated to Goodis a few years ago called Goodiscon.

November 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, you'll be happy to see that I have eliminated the reference to cancellation. I was uncomfortable with the term, and I could not think of a better one, so I simply got rid of it and edited accordingly. In addition to making my intention marginally clearer, I hope, this makes the post a bit shorter, which is almost always a good thing.

November 07, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

David, speaking of 'Weegee', I wonder have you seen the film, 'The Public Eye' whose lead character, played by Joe Pesci, is based on 'Weegee'
(coincidentally, I just happened yesterday to be making an unsuccessful attempt to convert my VHS recording to DVD)
Not a great film, but interesting as a character study, and for historical significance.

November 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll let "David," whose name is Lou, speak for himself. For my part, I don't recall having heard of the movie, but it shoots immediately to a prominent place on my to-rent list. I'll be curious about whether the filmmakers were able to incorporate something of the look of Weegee's work without detracting from the story or hitting the viewer over the head. So thanks for the suggestion.

November 07, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I haven't seen it in over 15 years, Peter, and my vhs recording of it was damaged so I was unable to refresh my memory of it, or convert it

November 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll have to let you know, then, once I've seen the movie. You'll see from the link I included in one of my replies to "David" that Weegee is a subject of interest here.

November 07, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

I don't know, Peter. I think you may have acted a little prematurely there.

I can see some miserable sci-fi novelist trying to write the world's greatest dystopian novel, presenting a world in which suicide has become routine and mechanized and coming up with the term self-cancellation to describe it.

And I can see you reading that book and thinking Bugger! if it wasn't for that stupid fecker Solo, I'd be the one credited with inventing the term 'self-cancellation'

November 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I'm still on record as having invented the term. But I was uncomfortable with its presumption, the idea that a literary conceit can be elevated to the level of such a drastic act as suicide. For all the alienation and self-revelation of Highsmith's books, they're just books, for heaven's sake.

November 08, 2010  

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