Both A Kiss Before Dying (KBD) and The Grifters are examples of what William Marling has called the American roman noir. Noir in this instance echoes another genre, film noir, and refers to a whole repertoire of narrative elements including settings, characters, plot devices, and diction. More generally it signifies a degraded moral condition and a pessimistic, even deterministic, view of the world. The noir universe is one where dark impulses drive action and appearances are often deceptive. Though romans noir often play out in the demimonde— cheap bars, casinos, shabby boardinghouses, etc.– moral darkness also pervades sun-struck suburban streets and opulent penthouses.
John Dos Passos, 1919 (1932) 9780618056828
Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900) 9780199539086
Chester Himes, Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965) 9780394759999
Ling Ma, Severance (2018) 9780374261597
Energetically and thoughtfully studying the literary rendering of hard historical realities seems like a good one.
I’m thinking of teaching The Clansman by Thomas Dixon next semester. Dixon was a white supremacist, an admirer of the Confederacy, and a staunch supporter of Jim Crow. The Clansman, the second installment of a trilogy about the post-Civil War South, became the basis of one of the most influential films in cinema history, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. The novel is replete with racist invective and celebrates the KKK. It is also a historically significant text that provides insight into the ideology of white supremacy and the political uses of the genre of historical romance. Do you think this kind of fiction belongs in the classroom? Would you be interested in reading such a book in one of your courses? If you have any thoughts on this matter please share them, either in the comments field of this post or via email. I appreciate your feedback.
A study was undertaken in 2013 with tenth-graders in Norway, where the students were divided into two groups. One group read two texts (1,400–2,000 words) in print and the other group read the same texts as PDFs on a computer screen. In the reading comprehension test that was administered, the students who read on paper scored significantly better than those who read the texts digitally. It was easier for those who read on paper to remember what they had read. Mangen et al. say that this is because paper gives spatio-temporal markers while you read. Touching paper and turning pages aids the memory, making it easier to remember where you read something. Having to scroll on the computer screen makes remembering more difficult.
Sunkara, et al. The ABCs of Socialism 978-1784787264
Hawkes. Ideology. 978-0415290128
Ballard, High-rise. 978-0871404022
Pelevin, Homo Zapiens. 978-0142001813
Thomas, Narrative: The Basics. 978-0415832656
Look at this book. Nothing in it is accidental. It is written. Everything has been put here for a reason. This certainty provokes our desire. There is a message here to interpret. How are we to understand it?
Knowledge is formed according to different methods. You can study the history of a thing, its development. You can analyze its structure by breaking it into parts.
Think of a fish. If you want to know the fish you can observe it: watch its action and see where it goes. If you really want to understand the fish you can capture it. You can kill it and open it up. Doing so entails a necessary violence. Understanding comes at a price.
The same is true for a book. The moment of fully engaged reading is like a swimming fish: pure process, complete absorption. That’s the story, working; the spell produced by its movement. But any effort to account for the story—to explain how it works—requires stillness.
Creating stillness—arresting the story in order to understand how its effects emerge from the interrelationship of its elements– is the act of interpretation.