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The L:Cinematic representations of events, and cinematic techniques like montage, have appeared in your work since "The Sentient Lens" and many of the short fictions of Pricksongs and Descants. Why do you repeatedly evoke or depict the cinematic experience in your writing?
RC: Thanks for taking note of the thread. Cinema was, like the novel of the century before, the distinctive narrative mode and myth-making apparatus of the past century, and so invited engagement, exploration, confrontation. But also, early on, I was intrigued by the peculiar grammar of film and crafted a number of little tales, exploiting its syntactical and semantic peculiarities. I imagined a kind of living camera—the "sentient lens" that you mention—and toyed with its novelties, most extensively perhaps in A Night at the Movies and The Adventures of Lucky Pierre. Though the movies are losing their cultural dominance in this new digital age, they continue to invade our imaginations, and my play with them has not ended.
The L: You've also written about and in the style of various movie genres throughout your career. What about noir inspired you to write an entire novel devoted to this genre?
RC: My lifelong engagement with the myths that environ us, for one thing. I mentioned the book's link to Ghost Town, which, like Noir, is focused on a lonely but iconic outsider, coping in his case with America's high-noon western myth, as Noir's lonely hero is embroiled in its after-dark urban one. But I was also drawn to the fairytale-like noir style with its shadowy expressionist nighttime streets and clipped bleak dialogue. I wanted to haunt those haunted spaces for awhile, see what was funny about them. Film noir emerged in the 1940s as a dark contrast to the upbeat patriotic war films of the time and all those happy family movies filmed in brightly lit backlots with their artificial technicolor tints. Noir resembled somewhat the old gangster movies of the 1930s, but was philosophically and politically tougher, more disturbing. A blurring of moral distinctions for one thing, a more skeptical, less "American" view of the way the world works. That noir got named by the French is no real surprise, for it was the ideal platform for French existentialism, the intellectual fashion of the day, there and here, with its stark choice between being and nothingness, its emphasis on freedom and authenticity, the interrogating mind, the courage to stare, unblinking, into the abyss. And thus it had its own mythic appeal, one more enduring, it would seem, than those sunnier plots and images it displaced.
The L: In haunting those noirish spaces you've taken immense pleasure in the style of language: "So it's not the story you're trapped in, like everyone else, but, once aware of that, how you play it out. Your style. Class. The moves you make." When writing in the vein of a particular genre or style such as noir, how do you weigh your interest in the play of language against your interest in creating a compelling narrative?
RC: I don't. Style is part of any compelling narrative, even if it amounts to a conscious stylelessness. Unintentionally clunky writing is not compelling. Story drives style and style moves the story along, even through the others' veins. They're inseparable.
The L: One of the themes you've continually pursued is man's burlesque search for the ineffable. Did noir offer you a particularly rich metaphor in this regard, what with the genre's iconic themes of detection, investigation, mystery, disappearance, memory, and fate?
RC: Yes, you have said it. The "melodrama of cognition" as Blanche calls it in the novel. A theme common to most fiction, but central to the Private Eye. Gotta know, gotta know... even if the knowing's not worth having.