Pulp Fictions and Hypertexts with Robert Coover 

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The L: If the knowing's not worth having, it also seems that it might not even be possible, especially for the amnesia-prone Philip M. Noir. Since film noir often features characters traumatized by their memories or in some way amnesiac in their understanding of the world, have you also taken on the genre to thematically amplify the difficulty if not the impossibility of the cognitive melodrama?

RC: This is a comic novel wherein all romantic notions are viewed skeptically, including the hero's "pursuit of the ineffable" and his "need to know." No need to take on a particular form to express one's personal themes, they'll infuse any story metaphor one's engaged in. So it would be more accurate to say that I simply offered up a tale idea and the thematics took on me.

The L: Were there any particular films you thought of or used as models when writing Noir? Has pulp fiction literature influenced you at all?

RC: Well, as noir buffs will discover, there are brief passing nods to a number of films, writers, characters, actors, props, throughout the book, not least in the hero's moniker and some of his lines, but there are no single models. The text feeds comprehensively on the genre itself, especially in its more motif-driven folkloric mode, something I absorbed as pattern early on in its heyday. As for pulp fiction, my reading, beyond workshops and classrooms, is pretty much restricted to the innovatively new and the acknowledged classics, more than enough for a lifetime, the classics of course including those of this genre. Nevertheless, pulp is like folktale, pop song lyrics, gossip, the back pages, commercials, dirty jokes. They're all there in the air, whether you consciously attend them or not.

The L: You once said in an interview, "What's difficult in print culture and the other forms of older texts was the necessity of one thing following upon another singularly. One page turns to another page, one picture gives way to another picture, and even the so-called moving pictures, motion pictures, are, in effect, a whole bunch of sequential things happening in a line without any variation in the way that that line is drawn. And the illusion of motion is derived from the very linearity, static linearity of the medium." Do you see your appropriation and/or subversion of cinematic language and technique as a challenge to that strict linearity?

RC: What my projectionist in "The Phantom of the Movie Palace" calls "the terrible enchantment of continuity." Cinema, until the playback mechanisms of videotape and the menu options of DVDs, was the most linear form of all—you couldn't even flip back a page to see what you'd just read. And yet discontinuity was to be learned there, above all in the operations of montage. Rick of "You Must Remember This," in his "link-and-claw theory of time," speculates that time may be much like film, not a ceaseless flow, but a rapid series of electrical leaps across tiny gaps between discontinuous bits, like "a pulsing sequence of film frames," and a film's editor is free of course, as we living in time are not, to cut and splice these frames in whatever order she or he chooses. The past itself, unlike the irreversible and irresistible present, is more spatial than linear, landscaped in memory like a theme park, any ride available in any order. In writing terms, both are forms of narrative realism, and both have an element of the fantastic. The long uninterrupted film take, for example, avoids the illusions of montage, but there's still the matter of the frame itself: what's in it, what's not.

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