HARDBOILED


"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean."
(Raymond Chandler)

In his Guide to Kulchur (1938) Ezra Pound suggests that "an education consists in 'getting wise' in the rawest and hardest boiled sense of that bit of argot." Indeed, back in the 1920s he told Malcolm Cowley that he had "found the lowdown on the Elizabethan drama." Pound, said Cowley, "was always finding the lowdown, the inside story and the simple reason why" (Exile's Return, p. 120).

According to Pound, "the method of Luminous Detail" had two main competitors in scholarship: "the method of multitudinous detail" (most prevalent in his day) and "the method of sentiment and generalisation" (which he saw as outdated; 1911, SP, p. 21). In Kulchur he promises an

active and instant awareness [that] is NOT handed out in colleges and by the system of public and/or popular education. In this domain the individual will remain, individualism will remain, without any theoretical and ideological bulwarks. A man will continue to gain or lose his own soul. (GK, p. 52)

It's not about teaching others how the world works. Metaphysics is that "about which you only know what you've found out for yourself." It is about saving your own soul from being duped about "the process now going on" (51).

When reading Pound, I sometimes think of Raymond Chandler's "The Simple Art of Murder", an essay that was published at about the same time as Kulchur. Here he describes the corrupt world of hard-boiled detective novels, "a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities." Pound admired Mussolini. The informal, personal, and often violent networks of loyalty that run the world in the background of these novels are arguably fascist.

"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean ... He talks as the man of his age talks—that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness" (20-21). In Farewell, My Lovely (1940), in the person of Philip Marlowe, he meets a "psychic consultant" and con-man named Jules Amthor, who holds the following short speech:

I am no fool. I am in a very sensitive profession. I am a quack. That is to say I do things which the doctors in their small frightened selfish guild cannot accomplish. I am in danger at all times—from people like you. (126)

It resonates nicely with Marlowe's own words not long afterwards. A police detective has just warned him about what might happen if he interferes with the murder investigation: "little by little you will build up a body of hostility in this department that will make it damn hard for you to do any work." Marlowe responds:

Every private dick faces that every day of his life ... I don't expect to go out and accomplish things a big police department can't accomplish. If I have any small private notions, they are just that—small and private. (180)

In my investigations, I seek the incontrovertible fact, the photographic evidence, the smoking gun of the historical process—the "luminous detail". "Most serious matters are closed to the hard-boiled," says Saul Bellow's "dangling man" (1944). I'm not so sure.



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