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From: "Tony Ellis" <LittleSense@necronomicon.co.uk>
Subject: (urth) "Forget it, Number Five, it's Chinatown."
Date: Sat, 25 Aug 2001 18:11:22 +0100

Dan wrote:
>Ooh now this gets interesting. How, if the ancients were so sold on
>reason, did they manage to be so ridiculously wrong about the way the
>world was put together?

Would these be the ridiculous Pythagorean scholars who postulated a
spherical Earth moving in a circular orbit about a central fire in the fifth
century BC, or the ridiculous Aristarchus of Samos who did the same thing in
250 BC? :-)

>(and I'm inclined, personally, to think that the ancients
>weren't so ridiculously wrong and the moderns not
>necessarily spot on) ...

Agreed. And I think you're right: broadly speaking, the ancients applied
Reason through discourse, the Moderns through experiment. But then, the
Moderns had access to a whole technology of glass instruments and vacuum
pumps with which to be experimenters.

>My own example of
>postmodern detective lit was going to be film noir but I don't really
>know the genre well enough to give examples.

Off the top of my head:

The Third Man, which just about invents the genre: Holly Johnson, writer of
cowboy stories, attempts to impose his own naïve form of narrative on post
WWII Vienna. But the solution to his dogged quest to find the Bad Guy who
killed his friend is the discovery that the friend -is- the Bad Guy.

Kiss Me Deadly: Mike Hammer slugs his way right out of the hard-boiled
detective genre and into the terrifying, unsolvable world of the atom bomb,
in of the most jaw-dropping dénouements in the genre's history.

Chinatown: gumshoe Jake solves the murder mystery, but precipitates tragedy,
not a restoration of order.

There you have it: solving the mystery in detective fiction brings order,
solving it in film noir brings the discovery that there -is- no order.

Broadly speaking I would agree with what I take to be the general consensus:
that this is precisely the sort of mystery Gene Wolfe does not write. But at
least one important exception springs immediately to mind: The Fifth Head of
Cerberus. In both the first and the final novellas, the 'detective' far from
solving a mystery becomes ensnared in one. The universe remains corrupt and

In fact it's just hit me: the seedy underworlds of St Anne and St Croix are
pure film noir, complete with criminal kingpin, bent cops, and femmes
fatales. Does anyone else think "Mean Streets: The Fifth Head of Cerberus
Considered as Film Noir" sounds like a good title for a Wolfe essay?

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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