Noir and Postmodernism

Reading this after finishing “The Black Angel.”

Wondering if pulp readers in the 40s were already fascinated by the inherent contradictions and complexities embedded in language and our thinking process. Contrary to the cliche, noir pulps are rather fluid

Woolrich for example seems to break away with tropes by placing women in the place usually occupied by detectives, cops or hoodlums.

Hyperreal dialogue. More interested in what things are not rather than what they are. Past uncertainty, moral ambiguity and existential questioning towards undefined liminal space

Noir, a genre of film and literature that emerged in the mid-20th century, has had a significant influence on postmodernism. The noir style is characterized by its dark and cynical themes, morally ambiguous characters, complex narratives, and a visual aesthetic that emphasizes shadows, chiaroscuro lighting, and urban landscapes. These elements resonate with postmodernism’s exploration of fragmented identities, blurred boundaries between reality and fiction, and skepticism towards traditional narratives and conventions.

One way in which noir has influenced postmodernism is through its deconstruction of traditional genres and storytelling techniques. Postmodern works often borrow from noir’s use of nonlinear narratives, unreliable narrators, and narrative twists to challenge and subvert audience expectations. This deconstruction disrupts linear and coherent narratives, reflecting the postmodern idea that reality is fragmented and subjective.

Noir’s focus on existential themes, alienation, and the darker aspects of human nature also aligns with postmodernism’s exploration of the individual’s place in an uncertain and chaotic world. Postmodern works often embrace the nihilistic and absurdist qualities present in noir narratives, highlighting the inherent ambiguity and lack of clear meaning in human existence.

Additionally, noir’s visual style, with its stark contrasts and evocative use of light and shadow, has influenced the aesthetics of postmodern art, film, and literature. Postmodern works often employ visual techniques reminiscent of noir, using chiaroscuro lighting, urban decay, and distorted perspectives to create a sense of disorientation and unease.

Overall, the influence of noir on postmodernism can be seen in its thematic concerns, narrative strategies, and visual aesthetics. Noir’s exploration of moral ambiguity, fragmented narratives, and dark atmospheres resonates with postmodernism’s deconstruction of traditional forms and its embrace of uncertainty, irony, and intertextuality.

noir is more interested in what thingsare not rather than what they are

Indeed, one of the defining characteristics of noir is its focus on negation and absence, emphasizing what things are not rather than what they are. Noir narratives often revolve around the unraveling of mysteries, uncovering the hidden truths and exposing the dark underbelly of society. This emphasis on negation creates a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity, as characters navigate a world filled with moral ambiguity, elusive motives, and obscured identities.

In noir, characters are often defined by what they lack or what they are trying to escape. Protagonists are frequently flawed, conflicted individuals caught in a web of deceit and danger. They grapple with their own demons, haunted by past mistakes or haunted by desires they cannot fulfill. This focus on absence and lack adds depth and complexity to the characters, highlighting their internal struggles and the existential questions they face.

Furthermore, noir’s visual style, characterized by shadows, silhouettes, and obscured faces, reinforces this interest in negation. The play of light and darkness serves as a metaphor for the elusive nature of truth and the hidden depths of the human psyche. The visual aesthetic of noir often obscures as much as it reveals, creating a sense of mystery and inviting audiences to fill in the gaps.

This preoccupation with what things are not aligns with postmodernism’s skepticism towards fixed meanings and essential truths. Postmodernism, in its deconstruction of grand narratives and fixed categories, emphasizes the limitations of language and the inability to fully grasp or represent reality. In this sense, noir’s focus on absence and negation resonates with postmodernism’s exploration of the fragmented and elusive nature of knowledge and meaning.

Overall, the interest in what things are not, rather than what they are, is a key element of noir’s style and thematic concerns. It contributes to the genre’s distinctive atmosphere of uncertainty, moral ambiguity, and existential questioning, and it finds resonance in the postmodern critique of fixed meanings and the exploration of the unknowable and the uncertain.

towards liminal space?

Yes, the interest in what things are not in noir can also be seen as a step towards liminal space. Liminality refers to a state of transition or in-betweenness, where traditional boundaries and categories become blurred or dissolved. It is a space of ambiguity, where the familiar is destabilized, and new possibilities emerge.

In noir narratives, the focus on negation and absence contributes to this sense of liminality. Characters often find themselves in morally ambiguous situations, caught between right and wrong, law and crime. The line between protagonist and antagonist, truth and deception, is blurred, challenging conventional notions of identity and morality.

Furthermore, the visual aesthetics of noir, with its use of shadows, foggy streets, and labyrinthine urban landscapes, create a sense of liminal space. These settings exist on the margins, in the shadows and hidden corners of society. They are places where normal rules and expectations are suspended, and characters navigate uncertain terrain.

In this liminal space, characters are often pushed to the edge, confronted with their own fears, desires, and vulnerabilities. They are forced to confront the ambiguities and contradictions within themselves and the world around them. Liminality becomes a catalyst for self-discovery, transformation, or existential crisis.

From a postmodern perspective, this engagement with liminality aligns with the destabilization of fixed categories and the exploration of the in-between. Postmodernism challenges binary oppositions and fixed identities, emphasizing the fluidity and multiplicity of meaning. The interest in what things are not in noir contributes to this destabilization, opening up spaces for new interpretations, alternative perspectives, and the questioning of established norms.

Overall, the interest in what things are not in noir can be seen as a narrative and aesthetic strategy that leads towards liminal space. It creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and ambiguity, where traditional boundaries are blurred, and characters navigate the thresholds of identity, morality, and truth.

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