Changes in society and how they affect literature

2013-02-28 14:48

Been reading Raymond Chandler’s writing recently for a Project. So, in the last day, I’ve learned slurs I didn’t know before for gays, blacks, and women. Okay, maybe I’d heard the gay ones before, maybe, but probably not in ten or twenty years, and possibly not as slurs. I definitely didn’t know some of the stereotypes. The ones for blacks? Heck, I couldn’t figure out what half of them were until I’d seen them in enough contexts to pick them up (which took a chapter or two). Women? Pretty easy to guess, but seriously, wow.

And yet. It’s literature. This is Influential Art. This is stuff that has guided the writing and voice of whole genres of novels and movies. Heck, I’m reading it because I want to write something in this style. You can’t “fix” it. You can’t make a realistic story in 1940s Hollywood where the police are just as concerned about the killing of a respectable African-American member of the community as they would be about a white guy. Or where people don’t consider “guy is gay” to be a pretty good explanation for any and all other depravities or weaknesses.

Makes for a very weird reading experience. It’s really exceptional writing, except that he rarely makes it a page in some stories without saying something obviously offensive to modern ears.

This is a whole different category from, say, Huckleberry Finn, in which the protagonist is in obvious and direct conflict with his own racism.

Peter Seebach