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Friday, January 13, 2017

Reading Dashiell Hammett Through Foucault/Foucault Through Hammet


With a wonderful introduction by Lillian Hellman
Hellman's introduction may add some facts Hammett's fans may not have known. He did not want these stories published in his lifetime and I sort of see why. But I am so grateful they have been collected and edited for us to read. I didn't read all of them. But each one I did read has an original charm and integrity of its own.

The Scorched Face is drastically dated for us. Women from well to do families in San Francisco have gone missing, been murdered, blackmailed and have committed suicide for threatened exposure of photographs taken during an hallucinatory orgy. Now almost laughable as they might have been deliberately posed and posted online for instant celebrity for something they would have died for not so very long ago. All we can do is shake our heads in wonder at this world we live in.

Corkscrew introduces us to Hammett's detective voice.What is startling is that the villains are really villains and the good ones display an integrity that seems to have disappeared completely from our present life on any plane of action.That quality of character portrayed in fiction had some semblance in life in the Real World. Certainly Hammett himself conducted his life in this fashion and paid the price for it. For me who invariably reads everything with a Foucauldian default setting my reading zeroed in on three genealogies:


  1. Illegal Immigrants - Not yet a major problem but simply their smuggling in as a way to make the big bucks. This is an interesting beginning as it is just beginning to make its Foucauldian CUT with capitalism in the GRID of power/knowledge already meshed with capitalism and normality. Not yet has illegal immigration become the huge source of cheap labor that it will be very soon - in this story we are still a ways from WWII. So for an alert Foucauldian perception we perceive an early CUT into the genealogy of smuggled humans for profit that will be so fraught with political outrage in our time. One can see how fast immigration has moved into problematization for us.
  2. The second CUT that jumped out at me was the sale of military weaponry. I already knew about its sale to American Indians, colonists, French and English during the settling of this country. But in thinking, contemplating it I began wondering at what point in history did the selling of military weaponry to both sides become natural and then institutionalized. Surely knights in armor has their beautiful suits of armor made by artisans, craftsmen, with great pride. Not mass produced for that was still to come.So I am not sure where that CUT of Foucault's entered our world but still it was around the time of this story, just before militarized weaponry would become a huge assembly line factory produced commodity of killing and money.
  3. The third CUT is "the banning" of these weapons. The new deputy sheriff in town rules that all guns get parked while in the bar. The sheriff has to enforce this ban. Open carry or concealed guns are the custom but the sheriff decides to change the custom. As always when customs get challenged people get angry. And this initial CUT in the genealogy of open/concealed carry appears innocently simple. It will become open warfare before 80 years. Yes time moves fast these days.
The EFFECTS that seem so charming and rather innocent in this story 
have resonances far beyond villains who brandish 
guns and bullets in a murderous way contrasted with
using these weapons carefully and intelligently.
So once upon a time they were so used
and now it doesn't seem so possible anymore confronted with
huge numbers of people who don't.

But their use has become so natural so institutionalized
that taking them away amounts to a loss of freedom.
Guns have become an ideology of freedom
an icon of freedom.

Are we just swamping around in ideology here as we fight about guns?


TULIP is a beginning of a novel/an unfinished novel. But is it really unfinished? We are treated to a mature Dashiell Hammett we haven't seen before in his stories. It is fiction that is true, without lies, in the way that non-fiction rarely is. Without lies I mean. A man trying to be as clear as possible. It feels very much like Faulkner. And Hemingway. And if only Hammett had not been so assaulted by the machine of capital, which he hated, we would have had him longer, and America would have had another truly great writer. For in TULIP you read the beginning of his greatness that was curtailed by illness and McCarthy's persecution.  And that's a good thing to know.

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