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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Raymond Chandler and RAW


I have been meaning to read Raymond Chandler for years, and not just because he was one of Robert Anton Wilson's favorite writers. (In this interview, RAW says, "My favorite writers are James Joyce, Ezra Pound, H.P. Lovecraft and Raymond Chandler.") I was also  interested because I like mystery novels in general, and because an old friend of mine has read every one of Chandler's books.

So,  finally, I checked The Big Sleep out of the library and read it. I really enjoyed the book. Such good sentences! Chandler's prose, with many funny wisecracks, has a sense of immediacy and vividness that hold the reader's attention. I can also see how Chandler must have influenced later writers, such as Lawrence Block in the Matt Scudder series, which I have been re-reading.

After I read The Big Sleep, I was curious about Chandler's influence on RAW. Eric Wagner's An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson is very good about tracing literary influences on RAW, and I keep a Kindle of it on my phone for reference. When I looked at the book, it reminded me that RAW wrote about Chandler in The Illuminati Papers.  The piece Eric references is "Infinite Cruelty," and it asserts that Chandler "created the unique literary form which is his and his alone, although more widely counterfeited than any other technique but Hemingway's." Eric also finds other RAW quotes about Chandler's influence in Wilson's style and Wilson's way of telling stories.  Wilson: "All my fiction tends to follow the Chandler mythos of the skeptical Knight seeking Truth in a world of false fronts and manipulated deceptions.  (Of course, this is also my biography, or that of any shaman.)"

RAW apparently read Chandler over and over again, and I certainly want to read more. 


quackenbush said...

I believe it was the RAWEE 6 cassette series where he liked living in LA to being in a Raymond Chandler theme park the same that living in Dublin was like a James Joyce theme park.

Brian Dean said...

I was amazed to discover recently that William Gibson doesn't consider himself much of a Chandler fan. I remember reading Neuromancer all those years ago and assuming Chandler was a big influence (my local library had most of the Marlowe novels, so I was already familiar with them in my early 20s). Watched Neil Jordan's film Marlowe not long ago, and liked it more than apparently most of the reviewers did. I enjoy the Bosch novels and TV series (and Lincoln Lawyer) - Michael Connelly's a massive Chandler aficionado apparently.

Here's what Gibson - whose books (and social commentary, etc) I also really love reading - said about Chandler:

"When science fiction finally got literary naturalism, it got it via the noir detective novel, which is an often decadent offspring of nineteenth-century naturalism. Noir is one of the places that the investigative, analytic, literary impulse went in America. The Goncourt brothers set out to investigate sex and money and power, and many years later, in America, you wind up with Chandler doing something very similar, though highly stylized and with a very different agenda. I always had a feeling that Chandler’s puritanism got in the way, and I was never quite as taken with the language as true Chandler fans seem to be. I distrusted Marlow as a narrator. He wasn’t someone I wanted to meet, and I didn’t find him sympathetic—in large part because Chandler, whom I didn’t trust either, evidently did find him sympathetic."

"But I trusted Dashiell Hammett. It felt to me that Hammett was Chandler’s ancestor, even though they were really contemporaries. Chandler civilized it, but Hammett invented it. With Hammett I felt that the author was open to the world in a way Chandler never seems to me to be."

Eric Wagner said...

I love the film of "The Big Sleep".