Tuesday, December 24, 2013

More from Starr on noir

Kevin Starr's California mentions noir again, this time at the beginning of a chapter on the arts:
"The twentieth century witnessed the debut of three entertainment media—film, radio, and television—dependent upon electronic technologies developed in California. Each of these media, film especially, took root in Southern California as it matured. To the traditional concerns of literature in California—nature, naturalism, and bohemia—were added the noir worldview and the apocalypse."
Has anyone ever argued with a lighter touch that crime movies and novels ought to be taken seriously? It's a truism that the hard-boiled loner of American crime fiction sprang from the Western, but how many people have  found a geographic source for noir? Instead of asking "What is noir?" (and risking decapitation by Anthony Neil Smith), perhaps we might more fruitfully ask where noir came from—and why.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Blogger Unknown said...

I wonder if noir (and American crime fiction in general) can be closely linked to the society's emergence from the Great Depression, the Volstead Act (and all the associated crime activity), and movement toward the inevitability of WW2.

December 24, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Those possibilities have been suggested, or at least assumed.

I amend that. The Depression and the Volstead Act have been been cited as seedbeds of crime and crime fiction, but I think World War II has been more often mentioned in terms of what fighting men found (or feared they would find) when they got back. I believe this is the first suggestion I have read that movement toward the war, rather than what happened during the war, may have contributed. The possibility is worth investigating, I'd say. But what I like about Starr's account is that he sees the connection between noir and California as deeper and of longer standing.

The passages I cite are from his one-volume history of California, from the Modern Library's Chronicles series, It will be interesting to see of speculates about noir at greater length in the relevant parts of his seven-volume series.

December 24, 2013  

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