Why the hullabaloo about Noir Fiction?

Otto Penzler wrote an article in the Huffington Post titled Noir Fiction Is About Losers, Not Private Eyes. In the article, Penzler states that noir fiction is a separate genre from private detective story, and that the “private eye story is optimistic, even if the detective is not.”

Why is it so important to define “Noir” fiction?

The definition of “Noir” has long been debated. The term has often been used in various ways to define a novel, short story, or film when in many cases the term does not fit the content.

Paul Duncan states:

“Since it came into the English language in the mid-1980′s, the word Noir has been used and abused. During the 1990′s, it became a buzzword, a designer label of a peculiar type of fiction that has black comedy apparel but rarely a heart of darkness.”

He goes on reaffirming what Otto is trying to convey:

“Noir is not a kind of macho hard-boiled fiction where Tough Guys pass moral judgement on an immoral society. Noir is about the weak-minded, the losers, the bottom-feeders, the obsessives, the compulsives and the psychopaths.”

Some of the confusion lies with the belief that the definition of film noir is the same as noir lit and vice versa. But film noir is in a category all in its own and crossing wires only creates befuddlement.

The best definition of film noir I have seen comes from Kevin Johnson who states that “The first and foremost misconception is that film noir is a genre, when in fact it is a style.”

Film can bring forth so many noir elements through the use of film techniques such  as lighting and cinematography that books just cannot do. The film Sweet Smell of Success is considered a classic of film noir mainly due to the contribution of James Wong Howe.

A narrower focus is needed.  Professor David Rachels is working towards constructing  a “useful definition of noir” that fits the genre and sub-genres of noir fiction “with an eye toward an historical understanding of noir.”

Why now?

We are on the verge of book revolution. Many of these long lost works of noir fiction  are about to make an appearance in the digital realm and will dust off their striking pulp covers.

In our digital world, it has become much easier to find a genre or sub-genre and to make distinctions to suit individual tastes. Identifying the content of body of work has become easier and discovering how it is related to other literary and film works has lead to a richness of media consumption unprecedented in any time in history.

Genres and sub-genres need to be made clear and the lines need to be drawn. In the online world of today, people looking for particular aspects of noir could find things getting messy. Search engines define entities by the key words associated with them. If you have the wrong definition, confusion results with entities like books and films.

The music industry has figured this out since going digital several years ago. Lyrics, songwriters, music categories are already categorized and labeled so that music lovers can find their musical niche, buy music, participate in sub-group forums, or contribute a recommendation about the music that they love for its unique qualities.

Book publishing is going digital. Publishers of noir fiction (and search engines) need a road map to create the associations and distinctions that make reading and discovering of noir fiction so much “doom fun“. Fans of noir fiction want to learn and be able to find the best and the most meaningful explanations of what they want to know.

2 thoughts on “Why the hullabaloo about Noir Fiction?

  1. In some ways I like the open-endedness of what “noir” can mean, but I understand the historical need to define it a bit more clearly. Charles Ardai, publisher of the Hard Case Crime books, summed it up pretty nicely– Noir fiction is crime fiction written by pessimists.

  2. Pingback: Noir Fiction | Shelf Talk

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