deleuze on crime fiction: the brilliance of james gunn’s deadlier than the male

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Gilles Deleuze, The Philosophy of Crime Novels1


La
Série Noire is celebrating a momentous occasion—its release of #1000. The coherence, the idea of this collection owes everything to its editor. Of course everyone knew something about cops, criminals, and their relationship, even if it was only from reading the papers, or the knowledge of special reports. But literature is like consciousness, it always lags behind. These things had not yet found their contemporary literary expression, or they hadn’t attained the status of common-place in literature. The credit for closing this gap at a particularly favorable moment goes to Marcel Duhamel.2 Malraux had this insight to offer in his preface to the translation of Sanctuary: "Faulkner knows very well that detectives don’t exist; that police power stems neither from psychology nor from clarity of vision, but from informants; and that it’s not Moustachu or Tapinois, the modest thinkers of the Quai des Orfevres, who bring about the apprehension of the murderer on the loose, but rank-and-file cops"…. La Série Noire was above all an adaptation of Sanctuary for a mass market (look at Chase’s No Orchids for Miss Blandish), and a generalization of Malraux’s preface.

In the old conception of the detective novel, we would be shown a genius detective devoting the whole power of his mind to the search and discovery of the truth. The idea of truth in the classic detective novel was totally philosophical, that is, it was the product of the effort and the operations of the mind. So it is that police investigation modeled itself on philosophical inquiry, and conversely, gave to philosophy an unusual object to elucidate: crime.

 

There were two schools of truth: 1) the French school (Descartes), where truth is a question of some fundamental intellectual intuition, from which the rest is rigorously deduced; and 2) the English school (Hobbes), according to which truth is always induced from something else, interpreted from sensory indices. In a word, deduction and induction. The detective novel reproduced this duality, though in a movement which was proper to the literary genre, and has produced famous examples of each. The English school: Conan Doyle gave us Sherlock Holmes, the masterful interpreter of signs, the inductive genius. The French school: Gaboriau gave us Tabaret and Lecoq; and Gaston Leroux, Rouletabille, who with "a circle between the two lobes of his forehead," is always invoking "the right track of reason" and explicitly opposing his theory of certainty to the inductive method, the Anglo-Saxon theory of signs.

 

The criminal side of the affair can also be quite interesting. By a metaphysical law of reflection, the cop is no more extraordinary than the criminal—he, too, professes allegiance to justice and truth and the powers of deduction and induction. And so you have the possibility of two series of novels: the hero of the first is the detective, and the hero of the second is the criminal. With Rouletabille and Cheri-Bibi, Leroux brought each series to its perfection. But never the twain shall meet: they are the motors for two different series (they could never meet without one of them looking ridiculous; cf Leblanc’s attempt to put Arsene Lupin together with Sherlock Holmes).’ Rouletabille and Cheri-Bibi: Each is the double of the other, they have the same destiny, the same pain, the same quest for the truth. This is the destiny and quest of Oedipus (Rouletabille is destined to kill his father; Cheri-Bibi attends a performance of Oedipus and shouts: "He’s just like me!"). After philosophy, Greek tragedy.

 

Still we mustn’t be too surprised that the crime novel so faithfully reproduces Greek tragedy, since Oedipus is always called on to indicate any such coincidence. While it is the only Greek tragedy that already has this detective structure, we should marvel that Sophocles’s Oedipus is a detective, and not that the detective novel has remained Oedipal. We should give credit where credit is due: to Leroux, a phenomenal novelist in French literature, who had a genius for striking phrases: "not the hands, not the hands," "the ugliest of men," "Fatal-itas," "men who open doors and men who shut traps," "a circle between two lobes," etc.

 

But the birth of La Série Noire has been the death of the detective novel, properly speaking. To be sure, the great majority of novels in the collection have been content to change the detective’s way of doing things (he drinks, he’s in love, he’s restless) but keep the same structure: the surprise ending that brings all the characters together for the final explanation that fingers one of them as the guilty party. Nothing new there.

 

What the new literary use and exploitation of cops and criminals taught us is that police activity has nothing to do with a metaphysical or scientific search for the truth. Police work no more resembles scientific inquiry than a telephone call from an informant, inter-police relations, or mechanisms of torture resemble metaphysics. As a general rule, there are two distinct cases: 1) the professional murder, where the police know immediately more or less who is responsible; and 2) the sexual murder, where the guilty party could be anyone. But in either case the problem is not framed in terms of truth. It is rather an astonishing compensation of error. The suspect, known to the cops but never charged, is either nabbed in some other domain than his usual sphere of criminal activity (whence the American schema of the untouchable gangster, who is arrested and deported for tax fraud); or he is provoked, forced to show himself, as they lie in wait for him.

 

With La Série Noire, we’ve become accustomed to the sort of cop who dives right in, come what may, regardless of the errors he may commit, but confident that something will emerge. At the other extreme, we’ve been allowed to watch the meticulous preparation of a sting operation, and the domino effect of little errors that loom ever larger as the moment of reckoning approaches (it’s in this sense that La Série Noire influenced cinema). The totally innocent reader is shocked in the end by so many errors committed on both sides. Even when the cops themselves are hatching a nasty plot, they make so many blunders, they defy belief.

 

This is because the truth is in no way the ambient element of the investigation: not for a moment does one believe that this compensation of errors aims for the discovery of the truth as its final objective. On the contrary, this compensation has its own dimension, its own sufficiency, a kind of equilibrium or the reestablishment of it, a process of restitution that allows a society, at the limits of cynicism, to hide what it wants to hide, reveal what it wants to reveal, deny all evidence, and champion the improbable. The killer still at large may be killed for his own errors, and the police may have to sacrifice one of their own for still other errors, and so it is that these compensations have no other object than to perpetuate an equilibrium that represents a society in its entirety at the heights of its power of falsehood.

 

This same process of restitution, equilibrium or compensation also appears in Greek tragedy (Aeschylus, for example). The greatest novel of this kind, and the most admirable in every respect, is not part of La Série Noire: it’s Robbe-Grillet’s Les Gommes, which develops an incredible compensation of errors whose keynotes are an Aeschylean equilibrium and an Oedipal quest.

 

From a literary point of view, La Série Noire made the power of falsehood the primary detective element. And this entails another consequence: clearly, the relation between cop and criminal is no longer one of metaphysical reflection. The interpenetration is real, and the complicity deep and compensatory. Fair’s fair, quid pro quo, they exchange favors and no less frequently betrayals on the one side and the other. We are always led back to the great trinity of falsehood: informant-corruption-torture. But it goes without saying that the cops do not of their own accord initiate this disquieting complicity. The metaphysical reflection of the old detective novel has given way to a mirroring of the other. A society indeed reflects itself to itself in its police and its criminals, even while it protects itself from them by means of a fundamental deep complicity between them.

 

We know that a capitalist society more willingly pardons rape, murder, or kidnapping than a bounced check, which is its only theological crime, the crime against spirit. We know very well that important political dealings entail any number of scandals and real crimes; conversely, we know that crime is organized in business-like fashion, with structures as precise as a board of directors or managers. La Série Noire introduced us to a politics-crime combo that, despite the evidence of History past and present, had not been given a contemporary literary expression.

 

The Kefauver report,4 and especially the book by Turkus, Societe anonyme pour assassinats, were the source of inspiration for many of the texts in La Série Noire. Many writers did little more than plagiarize them, or rather they turned them into popular novels. Whether it’s the Trujillo regime, or Battista, or Hitler, or Franco—what will be next when everyone is talking about Ben Barka—that begets a hybrid that is properly Série Noire; whether it’s Asturias writing a novel of genius: M. le President,5 or whether it’s people sitting around trying to figure out the secret of this unity of the grotesque and the terrifying, the terrible and the clownish, which binds together political power, economic power, crime and police activity—it’s all already in Suetonius, Shakespeare, Jarry, Asturias: La Série Noire has recycled it all. Have we really made any progress in understanding this hybrid of the grotesque and terrifying which, under the right circumstances, could determine the fate of us all?

 

So it is that La Série Noire has transformed our imaginings, our evaluations of the police. It was high time. Was it good for us to participate as "active readers" in the old detective novel, and thereby lose our grip on reality and thus our power of indignation? Indignation wells up in us because of reality, or because of masterful works of art. La Série Noire indeed seems to have pastiched every great novelist: imitation Faulkner, but also imitation Steinbeck, imitation Caldwell, imitation Asturias. And it followed the trends: first American, then it rediscovered French crime.

 

True, La Série Noire is full of stereotypes: the puerile presentation of sexuality, or what about the eyes of the killers (only Chase managed to lend a particular cold life to his killers, who are headstrong and non-conformist). But its greatness belongs to Duhamel’s idea, which remains the driving force behind recent releases: a reorganization of the vision of the world that every honest person has concerning cops and criminals.

 

Clearly, a new realism is insufficient to make good literature. In bad literature, the real as such is the object of stereotypes, puerile notions, and cheap fantasies, worse than any imaginative imbecile could dream up. But more profound than either the real or the imaginary is parody. La Série Noire may have suffered from an over-abundant production, but it has kept a unity, a tendency, which periodically found expression in a beautiful work (the contemporary success of James Bond, who was never integrated into La Série Noire, seems to represent a serious literary regression, though compensated for by the cinema, a return to a rosy conception of the secret agent).

 

The most beautiful works of La Série Noire are those in which the real finds its proper parody, such that in its turn the parody shows us directions in the real which we would not have found otherwise. These are some of the great works of parody, though in different modes: Chase’s Miss Shumway Waves a Wand; Williams’s The Diamond Bikini; or Hime’s negro novels, which always have extraordinary moments. Parody is a category that goes beyond real and imaginary. And let’s not forget #50: James Gunn’s Deadlier than the Male.

 

The trend in those days was American: it was said that certain novelists were writing under American pseudonyms. Deadlier than the Male is a marvelous work: the power of falsehood at its height, an old woman pursuing an assassin by smell, a murder attempt in the dunes—what a parody, you would have to read it—or reread it—to believe it. Who is James Gunn anyway? Only a single work in La Série Noire appeared under his name. So now that La Série Noire is celebrating the release of #1000, and is re-releasing many older works, and as a tribute to Marcel Duhamel, I humbly request the re-release of my personal favorite: #50.

 

Notes:

 

1. Arts et Loisirs, no. 18, 26 janvier-1 fevrier, 1966.

2. In 1945, the novelist Marcel Duhamel created "La Série Noire" at Gallimard; it is a series dedicated to the crime novel, which he headed till 1977.

3. Maurice Leblanc, Arsene Lupin contre Sherlock Holmes, 1908, reedited by Livre de Poche.

4. In 1952, a democratic senator issued a report on organized crime in America.

5. M. le President (Paris: Flammarion, 1987).

 

—from Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974. Edited by David Lapoujade. Translated by Michael Taormina. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Series (2004), pp 81–85.


 

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lines from the pulps: james gunn’s deadlier than the male


"She had a full-breasted figure in the Biblical style, the kind that suggests camels and water-jars."

 

There’s sex-talk!

Mrs. Krantz perked up. "About the new one?" she asked avidly.

Mrs. Pollicker nodded. "He smells," she said. "All the time. Like an animal."

Mrs. Krantz opened her mouth with a wet smack of ecstasy. "Oh, my, ain’t you human!”

Mrs. Pollicker stood up straight. "I rather think it is primitive," she said, pleased.

Plus there’s violence! 


Danny took his knife out of his pocket. He had something to say and he meant to move quickly, but his reactions were slow. The red-headed man struck him full in his open mouth, so hard that he smashed his jaw and teeth, and Danny’s mind was full of flashes and darkness. His head hit against the wall, and the red-headed man hit him again. Danny fell forward with his arms around the man’s legs, and the red-headed man brought his arm up in almost an incidental gesture to the side of Danny’s head. After that Danny did not think any more at all, not just because he was unconscious, but because he was dead.

—from James Gunn, Deadlier Than The Male (1950), the source for the legendary 1947 Robert Wise film noir Born to Kill, starring Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney.

thoughts on the artist’s studio

"Analysis of the art system must inevitably be carried on in terms of the studio as the unique space of production and the museum as the unique space of exposition."


                    Brancusi in his studio

The Function of the Studio*

Daniel Buren

 

In October 10, Fall 1979, pp 51-58

 

translated by Thomas Repensek

 

Of all the frames, envelopes, and limits-usually not perceived and certainly never questioned-which enclose and constitute the work of art (picture frame, niche, pedestal, palace, church, gallery, museum, art history, economics, power, etc.), there is one rarely even mentioned today that remains of primary importance: the artist’s studio. Less dispensable to the artist than either the gallery or the museum, it precedes both. Moreover, as we shall see, the museum and gallery on the one hand and the studio on the other are linked to form the foundation of the same edifice and the same system. To question one while leaving the other intact accomplishes nothing. Analysisof the art system must inevitably be carried on in terms of the studio as the unique space of production and the museum as the unique space of exposition. Both must be investigated as customs, the ossifying customs of art.

 

What is the function of the studio?

 

1. It is the place where the work originates.

2. It is generally a private place, an ivory tower perhaps.

3. It is a stationary place where portable objects are produced.

 

The importance of the studio should by now be apparent; it is the first frame, the first limit, upon which all subsequent frames/limits will depend.

 

What does it look like, physically, architecturally? The studio is not just any hideaway, any room.1 Two specific types may be distinguished:

 

1. The European type, modelled upon the Parisian studio of the turn of the century. This type is usually rather large and is characterized primarily by its high ceilings (a minimum of 4 meters). Sometimes there is a balcony, to increase the distance between viewer and work. The door allows large works to enter and to exit. Sculptor’s studios are on the ground floor, painters’ on the top floor. In the latter, the lighting is natural, usually diffused by windows oriented toward the north so as to receive the most even and subdued illumination.2

 

2. The American type,3 of more recent origin. This type is rarely built according to specification, but, located as it is in reclaimed lofts, is generally much larger than its European counterpart, not necessarily higher, but longer and wider. Wall and floor space are abundant. Natural illumination plays a negligible role, since the studio is lit by electricity both night and day if necessary. There is thus equivalence between the products of these lofts and their placement on the walls and floors of modern museums, which are also illuminated day and night by electricity.

 

This second type of studio has influenced the European studio of today, whether it be in an old country barn or an abandoned urban warehouse. In both cases, the architectural relationship of studio and museum-one inspiring the other and vice versa-is apparent.4 (We will not discuss those artists who transform part of their studios into exhibition spaces, nor those curators who conceive of the museum as a permanent studio.)

 

These are some of the studio’s architectural characteristics; let us move on to what usually happens there. A private place, the studio is presided over by the artist-resident, since only that work which he desires and allows to leave his studio will do so. Nevertheless, other operations, indispensable to the functioning of galleries and museums, occur in this private place. For example, it is here that the art critic, the exhibition organizer, or the museum director or curator may calmly choose among the works presented by the artist those to be included in this or that exhibition, this or that collection, this or that gallery. The studio is thus a convenience for the organizer: he may compose his exhibition according to his own desire (and not that of the artist, although the artist is usually perfectly content to leave well enough alone, satisfied with the prospect of an exhibition). Thus chance is minimized, since the organizer has not only selected the artist in advance, but also selects the works he desires in the studio itself. The studio is thus also a boutique where we find ready-to-wear art.

 

Before a work of art is publicly exhibited in a museum or gallery, the studio is also the place towhich critics and other specialists may be invited in the hope that their visits will release certain works from this, their purgatory, so that they may accede to a state of grace on public (museum/gallery) or private (collection) walls. Thus the studio is a place of multiple activities: production, storage, and finally, if all goes well, distribution. It is a kind of commercial depot.

 

Thus the first frame, the studio, proves to be a filter which allows the artist to select his work screened from public view, and curators and dealers to select in turn that work to be seen by others. Work produced in this way makes its passage, in order to exist, from one refuge to another. It should therefore be portable, manipulable if possible, by whoever (except the artist himself) assumes the responsibility of removing it from its place of origin to its place of promotion. A work produced in the studio must be seen, therefore, as an object subject to infinite manipulation. In order for this to occur, from the moment of its production the work must be isolated from the real world. All the same, it is in the studio and only in the studio that it is closest to its own reality, a reality from which it will continue to distance itself. It may become what even its creator had not anticipated, serving instead, as is usually the case, the greater profit of financial interests and the dominant ideology. It is therefore only in the studio that the work may be said to belong.

 

The work thus falls victim to a mortal paradox from which it cannot escape, since its purpose implies a progressive removal from its own reality, from its origin. If the work of art remains in the studio, however, it is the artist that risks death . . . from starvation.

 

The work is thus totally foreign to the world into which it is welcomed (museum, gallery, collection). This gives rise to the ever-widening gap between the work and its place (and not its placement), an abyss which, were it to become apparent, as sooner or later it must, would hurl the entire parade of art (art as we know it today and, 99% of the time, as it is made) into historical oblivion. This gap is tentatively bridged, however, by the system which makes acceptable to ourselves as public, artist, historian, and critic, the convention that establishes the museum and the gallery as inevitable neutral frames, the unique and definitive locales of art. Eternal realms for eternal art!

 

The work is made in a specific place which it cannot take into account. All the same, it is there that it was ordered, forged, and only there may it be truly said to be in place. The following contradiction becomes apparent: it is impossible by definition for a work to be seen in place; still, the place where we see it influences the work even more than the place in which it was made and from which it has been cast out. Thus when the work is in place, it does not take place (for the public), while it takes place (for the public) only when not in place, that is, in the museum.

 

Expelled from the ivory tower of its production, the work ends up in another, which, while foreign, only reinforces the sense of comfort the work acquires by taking shelter in a citadel which insures that it will survive its passage. The work thus passes-and it can only exist in this way, predestined as it is by the imprint of its place of origin-from one enclosed place/frame, the world of the artist, to another, even more closely confined: the world of art. The alignment of works on museum walls gives the impression of a cemetery: whatever they say, wherever they come from, whatever their meanings may be, this is where they all arrive in the end, where they are lost. This loss is relative, however, compared to the total oblivion of the work that never emerges from the studio!

 

Thus, the unspeakable compromise of the portable work.

 

 

Read the rest…

joseph conrad says: WTF?

What makes this funny is that it’s no joke. From Amazon.com:


WordBridge Publishing has performed a public service in putting Joseph Conrad’s neglected classic into a form accessible to modern readers. This new version addresses the reason for its neglect: the profusion of the so-called n-word throughout its pages. Hence, the introduction of "n-word" throughout the text, to remove this offence to modern sensibilities. The N-word of the Narcissus tells the tale of a fateful voyage of a British sailing ship, and on that voyage the ability of a lone black man to take the crew hostage. The ability of this man to manipulate an entire ship’s crew can no longer be seen as a mere exercise in storytelling. Conrad in fact appears to have been the first to highlight the phenomenon of manipulation based in white guilt.

the end of another dull and lurid year, and a new one just begun . . .

From "The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same" Department:
 

Quotations from recent reading which frame the problem . . .

"The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appears."

 

—Antoni Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971)


"What human beings seek to learn from nature is how to use it to dominate wholly both it and human beings. Nothing else counts."

 

—Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments (1972)

 


 . . . and describe the symptoms:


"No, you didn’t know my Zikmund, because he was not himself when he came with me to the camp. Because he lost his mind when he saw them killing his mother. A heart like a glass bell, a light crack, and it doesn’t ring anymore . . ." 

 

—Fred Wander, The Seventh Well (1971)


"Retailers are down 20 percent. Auto industry is in the dump. Housing market doesn’t have a heartbeat. It is one of the worst times on record for America. This is our moment."

 

—Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air (2009), based on the novel by Walter Kirn