Notes on Crime and Noir Novels…

Something about crime and noir fiction brings to life the sociopathic and psychopathic, street level view of American Society that nothing else can. One can read sociology all day long and not get descriptions like this from James Lee Burke (Neon Rain):

I had a whole file drawer of misery to look at, too: a prostitute icepicked by a psychotic John; a seventeen-year-old runaway whose father wouldn’t bond him out of jail and who was hanged the next morning by his black cellmate; a murder witness beaten to death with a ball-peen hammer by the man she was scheduled to testify against; a Vietnamese boat refugee thrown off the roof of the welfare project; three small children shot in their beds by their unemployed father; a junkie strangled with baling wire during a satanic ritual; two homosexual men burned alive when a rejected lover drenched the stairwell of a gay nightclub with gasoline. My drawer was like a microcosm of an aberrant world populated by snipers, razor-wielding blacks, mindless nickel-and-dime boost artists who eventually panic and kill a convenience-store clerk for sixty dollars, and suicides who fill the apartment with gas and blow the whole building into a black and orange fireball.1

From Hammet to Ellroy to the Irish wonder, Ken Bruen, or any number of the countless works from the early pulp era to our own one enters the dark psyche of our age. Philosophers of late have spent a great deal of time on horror and science fiction, but as I’ve been reading Frank Ruda’s work on fatalism and freedom where he tells us:

Today freedom has become a signifier of oppression. In this historical situation fatalism is the only possible stance that allows us to think freedom without being indifferent. We must affirm the position of a comic fatalism, whose slogans are: Start by expecting the worst! Act as if you did not exist! Act as if you were not free! Act in such a way that you accept the struggle you cannot flee from! Act in such a way that you never forget to imagine the end of all things! Act as if the apocalypse has already happened! Act as if everything were always already lost! Act as if you were dead!2

As he tells us his book is a counterhistory of rationalism— and thus also of the precondition for a proper concept of freedom— will therefore not entail a history of the concept of fatalism or an attempt to differentiate fatalism and determinism. The term fatalism in this book simply designates the assumption that the worst has already happened, and thus it functions as a foil that will allow us to differentiate various articulations of this assumption. But to reconstruct the history of fatalism within rationalism as a history of worsening is impossible without producing a certain comic effect. This effect, however, is not epiphenomenal but essential. Therefore the book will end with an exposition of why fatalism as the only rationally defensible position cannot but be comic fatalism.(ibid.)

As I reread such noir authors as Joe R. Lansdale, Ken Bruen, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, Megan Abbott, Patricia Cornwall, Charles Wiilleford, Daniel Woodrell, Jim Thompsan, C.J. Box and many others, this comic fatalism pervades their fiction with dark explorations of our negotiations between freedom and fate. These are fictions that portray the underbelly of life, the worlds of those left out in the cold, the rejected, the angry and violent, the people who do not fit into the perfect world of capital. Marginal, transgressive, outsiders who walk in the shadowlands below the surface of our consumerist paradise these fictions open us to that which we want to forget about ourselves, the darker side of our own affective lives that we like to sweep under the rug of civilized sublimity.

For Ruda and many like Zizek freedom can be a form of oppression, a false belief system that locks us into notions of free-will that are actually traps that keep us caged in mental prisons that control of minds and guide our lives along carefully scripted and habitual tracks laid out by a sociality that produces what we know and believe about agency and self.

1. James Lee Burke (1987-01-02T08:00:00+00:00). 01 The Neon Rain (Kindle Locations 154-160). Pocket Books. Kindle Edition.
2. Ruda, Frank (2016-05-01). Abolishing Freedom: A Plea for a Contemporary Use of Fatalism (Provocations) (Kindle Locations 76-83). UNP – Nebraska. Kindle Edition.

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