In the fall, at the University of St. Francis, I will teach a course on crime literature and film noir. Too long relegated to the ghetto of “genre”, noir actually possesses deep and profound insights into human nature. Novelist James Lee Burke, the greatest contemporary practitioner of noir, said in an interview I conducted with him that he uses the word “noir” to capture a “Darwinian world in which all the parameters that we convince ourselves we obey and to which we conform have no existence at all.”
In my new essay for The Daily Beast, “Where’s The Faith? Try Crime Novels”, I write that “Crime and noir have always told the story of people who decide to cross an invisible but palpable moral line. It then measures the wreckage—physical, emotional, and spiritual—that results from the voluntary crossing over into another ethical universe—a colder, tougher, and uglier universe. These same questions haunt the tales of the Bible and the lives of the saints.”
One of my many intellectual obsessions is noir. Philosophically and stylistically it manages to capture the depths (depravity, weakness to temptation, lust for power, greed, and sex) and heights (heroism, enforcement of moral codes) of human nature through its tough themes and Jungian interplay of shadow and light.
In “Where’s The Faith?” I I weigh in on the ongoing literary discussion of whether or not God is dead in contemporary American literature. I submit that the most engaging and compelling themes of religion, spirituality, and morality are to be found in crime literature, especially that of Walter Mosley, Michael Connelly, and above all, James Lee Burke. The essay contains a quote from Burke that I obtained in an email interview for the article, and it offers new perspective on a smoldering literary debate.