Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The Real Humphrey Bogart
Ed here: I want to thank Richard Wheeler for the link to this amazing review-essay about Stefan Kanfer's book on Humphrey Bogart. Jenny Diski writes not just about Bogart (whom she puts into the first realistic perceptive I've come across) but also the cultural and sociological influences that inspired noir and how the icons of the Thirties and Forties were of their time and can't be duplicated today. This appeared in London Review of Books.
"After the war, in books but most of all in old movies, these reluctant action heroes became perfect modern exemplars for the likes of Camus, who saw in them a stoic refusal to be held back by the status quo. Men who behaved as if there was a point in trying to right wrongs, even if they knew the world better than that. Mostly, in the early 1960s, we sat passively in the dark, in oversized black sweaters and tight jeans, watching the furious activity and dialogue, and then went home to read Being and Nothingness (or perhaps just its popularisation in Colin Wilson’s The Outsider). And maybe, later on, it was Marlowe and Spade who gave us the courage and foolheadedness to take to the streets. We were young and had energy to expend, so movies and books weren’t quite enough. We couldn’t all be private eyes. And the lurking socialism in Chandler and Hammett fitted well with a postwar generation’s fidgety need to blow holes in the self-sustaining establishment. I think they were part of the equation for the brief explosion of political and social activity."
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Not sure I agree with that "lurking socialism in Chandler and Hammett" bit. Lurking where?
Enjoyed this essay. Thanks.
Fred I assumed she was referring to the fact that they battled some of the inequities they saw. Now that you point it out "socialism" is too strong. How about sending me your e mail address? firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed -- I'm at email email@example.com. I lost your e-address when my old computer crashed last year
I think you're right about her intended meaning. I was a little too flip with my comment, but I suspect that Hammett and Chandler themselves would probably have taken amused exception.
Not to horn in, but horning I am. I have a problem with "lurking" myself. Both Ms. Diski and Mr. Blosser seem to subscribe to the school of thought that places socialism in that box with "fascism" and "dictatorship" as if the idea itself is somehow flawed and inherently evil. Why does it have to "lurk", and why can't Marlowe and Spade and possibly Archer and Nameless be socialists or at least humane enough to see the evil around them in all its forms? If capitalism is an acceptable idea, why isn't an idea that provides for it's attendant ravages OK? Socialism doesn't necessarily lead to robot militarism, nor does capitalism. Results are all in the execution of ideas, aren't they?
Terry, my concept of socialism (and Ms. Diski's too, apparently -- that's why I disagreed with her statement) is the concept of a governmental system that provides for the physical or economic needs of those in the population who are unable to care or fend for themselves. I didn't mean to imply that I find fault with that, and I certainly don't find any evil, inherent or otherwise. It's just that, to me, socialism implies a political system that in some form redistributes wealth to help those in need. Marlowe may help an otherwise defenseless person out of a jam, or the Continental Op may clean up a gang-ridden company town. Those actions may be prompted by a personal sense of justice, individual sympathy, or responsibility, but they don't suggest to me that Marlowe and the Op necessarily champion a particular political system or philosophy.
Well stated and points well taken Fred, and I apologize if my post seemed argumentative. As a long-time lefty, I may be a bit thin-skinned about folks who don't recognize and acknowledge socialist programs they themselves are benefiting from, such as Medicare, public schools, first responders and etc., etc. (Tea anyone?). Again though, I must ask you about your use of the word "redistribute"; is it code for a libertarian stance on sharing the wealth? And then I might ask, why shouldn't a member of the working class, as most PIs surely would be, be eager to balance a system that uses the labor of many for the self-
enrichment of a few? My take on Lew Archer, admittedly subjective, is that his marriage may have broken up because he wanted to spend his life helping people caught up in the machinations of bad rich people.
Maybe you or Ed might inform me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Hammett at one time a communist or a left leaning New Dealer at least? Not sure of Chandler's politics...
Terry, maybe "redistribute" isn't the right word -- equitable sharing of wealth, maybe. Anyway, no libertarian meaning was intended. I'm not sure about Chandler's political leanings if any; it's been a while since I read the biography by McShane. Hammett was a member of the ACP and suffered under McCarthy. Still, I don't remember any strong political message in his fiction. The Op and Sam Spade seem to have a cynically amused rather than outraged perspective on human greed and social corruption, and Marlowe seems more self-absorbed (especially in the later novels) than socially conscious. Of the PIs, Archer has the softest spot for the underdog, but it's more an emotional than political impulse, as I perceive it.
Fred, I get it now. Thanks for an interesting and enlightening exchange.
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