Mark McGurl

"Literature" of It: Culture and High

What is the thing in itself? Weshall not reach the thing in itself until our thinking has first reached the thing as a thing. Martin Heidegger, "The Thing" The thing in itselffolded itself up inside itself like you mightfold a thing up to be another thing whichis that thing inside in that thing. GertrudeStein, "Portraits and Repetition" Thenyou think the dingus is worth two million? Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon 1. Commerceand Theology It is often argued that culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries begins to be dispersed to either side of a "Great Divide" between modernism and mass culture, high culture and low, and though there are many different accounts of the form and function of the objects divided in this way, the values they embody or pursue are normally assumed to be strictly opposed. For Andreas Huyssen, most prominently, "modernism constituted itself through a conscious strategy of exclusion" of mass culture, to which it showed "obsessive hostility" (vii; see also Jameson 207). Lawrence Levine, similarly, speaking to the specifically American context, describes how in the late nineteenth century an elite "highbrow"culture, reacting to the shock of mass immigration, began to define itself in opposition to the "lowbrow" culture of the unruly multitude. What had been a "rich shared public culture" (9) was replaced, he argues, by a view of culture that increasingly excluded any commerce between the sacred art of the elite and the profane entertainments of the mass.

to a degree. Take. the plane of stark intellectuality and the plane of stark business" (15). see also Chinitz) is not a promising sign of the seriousness of the post-Jamesian novelist but lamentable evidence of cultural ill health. if covertly. to specific social groups. Brooks argues that the cultural divide these terms signify. S. Though the interpretivemodels of Huyssen or Levine might succeed in absorbing this anomaly. in which the analysis of this peculiarly American form of the high/low opposition makes its first sustained appearance. a sort of curse. confirm them. that the divergence of high and low narrative forms occurred in the early twentieth century. and it is a problem because it has left the task of government entirely. it will also allow us to draw renewed attention to the intimacy between modernism's preoccupation with literary form-in particular with the text's status as a thing. It is a division within the "American mind" as a whole. Eliot claimed. at least. "[h]uman nature itself in America" has ever since existed "on two irreconcilable planes. icy and pinnacled" (6) theology of Jonathan Edwards with the civic commercialism of Benjamin Franklin. as recent critics do. This will allow us to recover an important moment in the dialectic of earlytwentieth-century modernism that has. the result of a "dissociation of the elements of the old three-volume melodramatic novel into the various types of the moder 300-page novel. For Brooks and Eliot. Unable to merge the "steep. what remains surprising about earlier accounts of the Great Divide. however. it might profit us to linger briefly on this aspect of its self-understanding. Writing 12 years later. or object-and the "materialistic"mass . For Brooks the distinction between high and low is not tied." But. far from a recent occurrence. the "distinction of genre between such-and-such a profound 'psychological' novel of today and such-and-such a masterly 'detective' novel of today" (409. and interest in. since the consolidation and self-promotion of postmodernism as a discourse of recovery from modernist elitism. received little attention. is their effort to locate this cultural division outside the discourse of modernism itself. the production of a Great Divide is not an aspiration but an inheritance. from our perspective. producing cultural division. T. Van Wyck Brooks's 1915 discussion on "'highbrow' and 'lowbrow"' (1-19). as in Levine's account.American Literary History 703 Certain period accounts of the conditions of culture. in the hands of commerce. complicate these later accounts even as they. as Eliot's use of the term "dissociation" makes clear. for instance. While in retrospect this distinction may appear a suspiciously modest denial of modernism's responsibility for. has been a feature of American life since its very beginnings.

Miller has shown in The Novel and the Police (1988). simultaneously intensifies the text's claims to both "materiality" and "spirituality." which "has completely to do with identity but has nothing to do . . Though the detective story serves for Eliot as an emblem of the contemporary low genre.and Edgar Allan Poe [1995]). it has to do . it partakes of the larger discursive project of realist narrative of making individuals accountable to social norms and to the law. between theology and civic commercialism. . This response to a divide between high and low. Poe was deeply embedded in the mass culture of the mid nineteenth century. . And so always it is true that the master-piece has nothing to do with human nature or with identity..' The following pages read an important strand of American modernism not as aspiring to produce a Great Divide between high and low-that is. A model for this approach can be found in Edgar Allan Poe's detective fiction. especially when these terms mark an opposition between theology and civic practicality. To the degree that the detective genre is defined by its engagement with policing. with a thing in itself and not in relation. instead of to the outward production of "common knowledge. to distance itself from mass culture-but as responding to a divide that seemed to have a vestigially religious significance. (149) This version of the detective story.704 Hammett andHigh Culture culture it purportedly rejected. The moment it is in relation it is common knowledge and anybody can feel and know it and it is not a is not an accident. as D. who in the essay "What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them" (1936) speaks of the asocial masterpiece and the detective story in virtually the same breath: In real life people are interested in the crime more than they are in detection . or what Stein calls "governing. that he became the guiding spirit of French Symbolism. as they do for Brooks. but in the story it is the detection that holds the interest. I think. Mass Culture. . One might however balance this view with that of Gertrude Stein. however. . it is another function that has very little to do with human nature that makes the detection interesting. A.."as though the two might thus be made to signify the same thing." runs directly counter to policing. which turns the genre inward. whose apparent hostility to unholy mass culture is so striking (see Jonathan Elmer's Reading at the Social Limit. it has functioned under this guise as a privileged site in modem culture for the negotiation of the high and low. Affect.

it takes him ratherquickly into the literaryinstitutionsof the "smartset. Andre Malraux."knowledge. with these problemsis confirmed Hammett'sdeep involvement not only by the ambiguousnatureof his chosen genrebut also litby his peculiarstatuswith respectto early-twentieth-century I adewhose has been eraryinstitutions. it suggests that a text's on its surfaceas empirical." Indeed.without canceling the relative autonomy of these two discourses. and Stein. Andre Malraux. serials. Admiredby such as AndreGide. however. As a result. . ForwhileHammett's careerbeginsin the pulp quatelyaddressed. the text's interrogation Hammettultimately recognizeshis failureto mergethe high and sense of failureis.and Henry James'sThe GoldenBowl (1904)-in proposinga characteristically symbolistanalogybetweenan object in the novel and the object that is the novel itself. If for Brooksthe problemwith "poetry" in his dividednation is that it is "hiddenaway."not "Mammon. Hammett'sfiction echoes the more obviously elite modernismwhose central texts he appreciated and discussedeven as he continuedto sell his work to the pulp Admiredby such as Andre Gide. as we shall see in Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon (1930). as we shall see.which addressesthe unbridgeable distance of God from "humannature. For Stein the philosophicalpurityof detectivefiction serves"God.which enfolds a versionof the text in the social worldit imagines. This search. Hammetts fiction echoes the more obviouslyelite modernismwhose central texts he appreciatedand discussed even as he continued to sell his work to the pulp audience.does not necessarilysucceed.and Stein. His work shows us both what modernismlooks like to mass cultureand what mass culture looks like to modernism. important."where his work functionsnot so much to exemplifythe low as to representand the mechanismsof distinctionthat generatethis abinterrogate ject categoryin the firstplace.American Literary History 705 with master-pieces" (153). think.its presenceas a physicalobject in social space.too unreal in fact ever to be broughtinto the open" (15).indeedasserts.2This recursivegesture.too intangible.WilkieCollins'sTheMoonstone (1868). Poe's text offers a model of the social relationsof a certainkind of modernisttext. this text seeks to serve"God and Mammon"at once.most notablyin Black Mask.In this way. Advertising both its physicalavailability and its spiritualdifficulty." The detectivestory genre thus could be said to inhabitthe very breachbetweenthe high and low. which recalls "ThePurloinedLetter"(1845)-as well as subseTheScarlet novels"suchas NathanielHawthorne's quent"crime Letter(1850).enables of its own social function. Poe's purloinedletterrespondsratherpreciselyto this problemof intangiinsideout and hiddenin plainview.her account can be seen to link detectivefiction to the long tradition of the Christianmystery.or "comhighertruthis not available mon. At the same time. complexity not. Turned bilityand invisibility. the theologicaland the practicaldescribedby Brooks.too inaccessible. Poe'sletteradmits.3 But and this low.

I don't mean that I necessarily take my own or anybody else's seriously-but the detective story as a form. that the greatest American writers of the time were William Faulkner and Hammett (Johnson 12). without canceling the relative autonomy of these two discourses. In this he echoes the critique of stable.706 Hammett and High Culture audience. and by their self-conscious heirs such as Eliot.. The distinction between high and low retains an obvious force. after six years of publishing in the pulps: "I'm one of the few . however slight the evident justification may be" (qtd. whose novel Les Faux-Monnayeurs(1925) Knopf had published in 1927 as The Counterfeiters. the Hammett-like narrator . and I'm selfish enough to have my hopes. however. where the relation of Hammett's actual work to an ideal "form" of the detective story is managed in the affective register of "seriousness. in Johnson 53). in the manner of our recent postmodernist populism. . To be published by Knopf was for Hammett a badge of distinction. His work shows us both what modernism looks like to mass culture and what mass culture looks like to modernism. had "degeneratedinto a meal-ticket" (qtd.For his part Gide would claim. Hammett's statement of high purpose to Blanche Knopf. Here the fragments he published in pulp would be bound together and presented whole by a publisher as famous for the beauty and high production values of its books as for its importation of serious European modernism into America. to Hammett's satisfaction. people moderately literate who take the detective story seriously. suggests the inadequacy of the idea either that Hammett's work unambiguously partakes of "literature"or that. in Johnson 72). symbolism by the rigorously hermetic Symbolists." My contention here. Hammett's own sense of the complexity of his position and his frank aspiration to produce high art emerges in a letter he wrote to Blanche Knopf upon being taken up by this highly respected publisher in 1928.. pressing this idea further. a sign that his work had somewhat departed the grubby milieu of the serials where his sleuth. paradoxically reveals itself in his habitual lack of seriousness with respect to the ontological status of his own representations. as he once put it. Some day some body's going to make 'literature'of it.. will be that the problem of Hammett's ambiguous place in early-twentiethcentury cultural hierarchies. Hammett simply saw through the insidious Great Divide.which he hoped to overcome by taking his genre seriously. In the penultimate paragraph of the unfinished novel "Tulip" (1952).4 Hammett would now rub shoulders with the likes of Andre Gide. Hammett's problem with representation becomes explicit at the very end of his career. or popular.

In his writings of the period from 1924 to 1952. for the unity of matter and spirit. and an elusive artifact-the black bird better known as the Maltese Falcon. It also signifies a funny-looking portable seat used by hunters. and for his "co-operat[ing] to persuade himself that he is in contact with 'real people"' who might be his friends (59).5 Hammett's "murder" of his own representations enables him to negotiate the relation of high to low. at once distancing himself from his popular work and figuring an image of "literature" and its "timeless" spiritual value as its unrealized aspiration. of commerce and theology.a project perhaps most fully realized in The Maltese Falcon. I will show the operation of this ritual murder. 2. variously. indeed theological. for one thing. a species of "colored bubble" or counterfeit coin-is a figure for the failed aspiration to the status of "literature. like conscious symbolism. unlike the others. Thus Hammett attributes the sudden collapse of his productivity after The Thin Man (1934) to a fundamental. and I suppose I must have had some inkling of the same opinion then-devices of the old and tired. or graven images.we can see that the grail-like statuette revealed at the end of Hammett's third novel to be an enameled fake-that is. Leavis disdains the naive mass reader precisely for his "confusion of fiction with life" (60). He is disappointed with its inability to transcend the fallen forms of representation-its failure simply to be rather than mean. and not try to fool yourself or your customers with colored bubbles" (347)."or. a deep uneasiness with what most saw as the popular novel's fundamental appeal. I think. D. This critique of representation takes the form of a kind of ritual murder in the early novels. or older and more tired. Murdering Representation Hammett liked the word dingus. Through Hammett's The Dain Curse(1929). where what are murdered are not so much persons as representations of persons."Fiction and the Reading Public (1932). has nothing directly to do . a novel. a short story. more precisely. disappointment with his craft. If you are tired you ought to rest. The murder of these representations expresses.American Literary History 707 looks back to the time when he was still a productive professional writer and observes that "representationsseemed to me-at least they seem now. that "literature" had come for Hammett to represent. to ease up. a magician's prop. Q. "dingus" signifies. In the context of The Dain Curse. a typewriter. though this usage of dingus. In her critique of the debased "bestseller.

"then. in the root sense of thing as the product of combination or of a "folding together. Like whatchamacallit. may have sounded equally awkward. avoided. and doodad. for instance. By recourse to the phallic diminutive "dingus. dingus calls attention as much to the peculiarity of the thing not named as to the speaker's inability to name it. more or less means. Like gizmo. feigns catching it mid-stride.708 Hammett andHigh Culture with writing. But what for Hammett makes a short story or novel or black falcon a dingus? These literary dinguses share a proximity. "dingus" seems to say. in Johnson 74). for Hammett. how curious Hammett thought the things of writing to be. said of his recently revised novel The Dain Curse "the dingus is still undoubtedly rathercomplicated" (qtd. perhaps it emphasizes. the last being a combination of the last two magazine . or pen or pencil or paper. dingus is complication. The Dain Curse. gizmo. For instance when Hammett. dingus acts as a linguistic placeholder. saying "dingus" rather than simply "thing" makes fun of the process of naming. words like pot-holder or parrot or plasma. he no doubt had the words novel and book at his command." he diffidently deprived the thing he had just revised of a small portion of its dignity. to the problem of conceiving the artifact he produces as one thing at all. however. These three sections no doubt endure as the three "Parts" of the published book-the first two corresponding more or less to the first two magazine segments. it becomes difficult for Hammett to think of it as a thing after all. but the beginnings of a bemused or a mildly contemptuous specification. at once draws attention to and questions the artifact's status as an individual thing. It had originally been published serially in four issues of Black Mask and. in correspondence with his editor at Knopf. for he will trouble the movement-e pluribus unum-in which what is conceivable as a number of things is also conceivable as one thing. At the same time. according to Knopf editor Harry Block. or caught on the tip of the tongue. a way of noting the thingly quality of some thing whose adequate designation is unknown. related by way of Dutch to the German Ding. before thing and noun are fused: once upon a time. in Layman 103). For "thing" is what dingus. by associating those that do with portable chairs. Dingus is not merely a place-holder or parody of naming. In other words.thingamajig."Insofar as an artifact is seen as a plurality. Take. still fell "too definitely into three sections" as a novel (qtd. Calling his literary artifact a "dingus.

a human being. and the will of God Himself. in the pages of the novel itself. the continuation of the novel The Dain Curse. Form and theme converge in The Dain Curse. however. and the question then becomes what "connecting link" he will uncover." as it turns out. reinforce the notion that the novel interrogates the possibility of its own unity. In the case of The Dain Curse. whether the "theory that there [is] some connecting link" (39) in a number of murders-note the similarity between "connecting link" and Block's "connecting thread"-will hold up to scrutiny. endowing it with coherent intention. . Block thought. namely. The "Dain curse" is adduced by several characters to explain as supernatural the common source of a number of murders that occur in the vicinity of Gabrielle Leggett. one body and "one mind" with a "system that he likes. Block's aspirations for The Dain Curseare familiar enough: a demand for unity in any artistic project has been one of the more common demands of prescriptive aesthetics. a novelist who looks conspicuously like Hammett did. the editor's prescription of unity is thematized in the central question driving the novel. in Johnson 74). This "one mind. Hammett's unnamed detective the Continental Op. however. Still bearing the traces of its serial origins. Such coy self-reflexivity suggests a familiar analogy between the author who presides over his created world. thinks it will. this announces at once the continuation of the Leggett record. who has "stopped believing in accidents" (138). indeed italicized. belongs to Hugh Fitzstephen. When at the end of part 1 the Op says "we [at the Agency] wrote Discontinued at the bottom of the Leggett record" (66). and sticks to" (169). When a few sentences later the Op is told that "the Leggett matter is active again" (67) because someone else has been murdered.American Literary History 709 segments. a "connecting thread" (qtd. Its possibility hinges on the ability to map to a single person the novel's discrete parts-conceivable now either formally as "sections" of the book or thematically as its numerous murders. since the potential unity the novel ponders is conspicuously its own. the question of continuity that would bother Block is inscribed. Appropriately enough. The Continental Op sets himself the task of finding a more "tangible. and the renewed search for the single person who forces both of these narratives onward. this person is both a murderer and a novelist. logical and jailable answer than any curse" (188). it needed. namely. That the answer to the question Whodunit? in The Dain Curseis the author does. whose mother was a Dain.

710 Hammett and High Culture But can either the Op. the novel itself only ambiguously succeeds in locating the individual author/murderer that will guarantee its own unity. in a state of incompletion. dating from the cradle" (220). "I do mine with the object of putting people in books. then. and the body that is sent to the prison-psychiatric hospital will not have the status of a responsible. and I get paid for it. but what good does that do?" "God knows. though not as much as I should. but as he tells the Op. that is. on the theory that nobody but a lunatic could have committed so many."I said. the latter with representations-suggests that discovering this unity will be difficult: "Are you-who [as a detective] make your living snooping-sneering at my curiosity about people and my attempts to satisfy it?" "We'redifferent. "Put enough people in cities wouldn't have traffic problems. Beyond the Op's grasp." I said. Only a representation of an author. The (moral) unconsciousness implied by Fitzstephen's insanity. What good does putting them in jail do?" "Relieves congestion. or the text itself. though not as much as I should. and I get paid for it. are not "jailable. And won't they be many? I'll produce crimes and crimes."he said. he may not be held responsible for resolving its formal pluralities. the real author is present in the . intending subject. as the Op would say. The sheer number of the novelist's crimes makes the category of intentionality useless for the Op. then." "That'snot different."(22) and jail For all the apparent similarities between the "snooping" detective and the "curious" novelist. mirrors his necessary unconsciousness of the formal problems in the novel of which he is a part." "Yeah. "I do mine with the object of putting people in jail. The Op (to Fitzstephen's dismay) does in fact think the novelist is a lunatic. in court the "number of my crimes will be to my advantage. Fitzstephen may be the origin of the murders in the book."So even if the Op succeeds in jailing the single body responsible for the murders. "putting people in books" only makes flesh into representationswhich. find this single person? A conversation between the Op and the novelist Fitzstephen-the former concerned with realities. The convergence of the formal and the thematic in TheDain Curseis held.

American Literary History 711 world of the novel only as phantom. of Block's editorial efforts: "I had my hands full . head and face. soul. or the unreality of fictional character as such (What are these beings in books but a kind of ghost?).. the unresolved problem of the unity of the novel reveals itself in Hammett's criticism. a pale bright thing like a body. The thing was a thing like a man who floated above the floor. The legs were now one leg like a twisting pedestal. No feature or member ever stopped twisting. just as the thing's legs and torso. is how faithfully it is mirrored in the criticism surrounding Hammett's first two novels. almost too chaotic to comprehend. stood writhing before me. Widespread opinion held that they were. (92-93) Whether this figure signifies the author-god.. no fixed form. writhing long enough for its average outline. About Hammett's first novel. And what is curious about these judgments is the ambiguity they evince with respect to the source of the chaos. there was considerable uncertainty as to whether this chaos resulted from its excessive number of murders or its excessive number of characters. the problem of multiplicity.. to cure this individual of . but not like flesh. stretching and shrinking. in Johnson 77). and then two. So. as Hammett would put it-is still undoubtedly rather complicated. is a single person inhabited by many. skin and guts" (8). They had no shape. upon receiving last galley proofs. the captain of industry who "was Personville.. Red Harvest (1929).. there in the black room. had no shape. trying to make it look like all the work of the same writer" (qtd. something like the "writhing"-or is that "writing"?-"indescribable thing" who appears to the Op in a chapter entitled. evident in the novel in the form of the shifting effects of his cause.." a pun on the name of the crowded city of Personville and suggestive at the same time of a novel problematically inhabited by many characters. in a sense.. and then three."who "owned Personville heart. The task of the Op will be.. pointedly enough.. Red Harvest was at first to be called "Poisonville. In the more practical terms of editors and authors. "God.. quivering.. arms and hands. too. Donald Willsson. like the writhing ghost itself. but I don't know what their shape was. swelling and contracting." This chapter tells of the Op's adventures in the temple of the "Holy Grail Cult" run by the novelist Fitzstephen: Not more than three feet away. They writhed. or the disunity of the novel itself-the dingus. for instance. its proper shape. to be seen. Its feet-it had feet. What is fascinating about this problem.

Immediately after complaining that The Dain Cursefalls "too definitely into three sections. Indeed. the multitude. make the reader doubt the story. multiplication with a vengeance" (qtd. who seems to be bothered more by the novel's number of murders than by its "crowd of characters. Donald Willsson. Blanche Knopf finds about Red Harvest that "so many killings on a page ..712 Hammett andHigh Culture the poisonous social occupation of his identity. the very idea of a social relation between writer and audience. and more coming up . rejecting the notion that the famed Hemingwayesque sparseness of his prose represents the language of the common "man on the street. a reversal of authority Hammett. multiplication of everything . That's sixteen of them in less than a week." is canny enough to see the necessarily intimate or economic relation of the two: "There has been in detective stories a decided increase in the number of murders deemed necessary to complete the story. which is so great as to create confusion" (qtd." .' It is crowded with characters-it had to be to supply material for the murders-the action moves dizzily and when it is all over. Since they are necessarily coincident.. the interest slackens" (qtd. Knopf. as an author of popular fiction. was making the Continental Op in The Dain Curse claim with the same phrasing that the value of his profession is to "relieve [the] congestion" of persons in cities. . . Only numerous characters can "supply material" for numerous murders. like this dizzied critic. roughly when he was assuring Blanche Knopf that removing a few murders from Red Harvest would "relievethe congestion" of killing.]. the four wops at Cedar Hill . found disturbing." Block.. disables her pursuit of the lofty thing-in-itself. [etc. in Johnson 74). for example. This notion can put a surprising spin on the question of Hammett's style. Such an appetite will certainly be glutted in 'Red Harvest.. typical of his time. in Levine 171)."(154).or herself but "what the audience hears one say" (147). Ike Bush. which forces the writer to hear not him. Hammett himself. complains about the "violence" that "is piled on a bit thick" and about its "immense number of characters. What are we to make of this odd convergence of bothersome pluralities? I am suggesting here that Hammett's problem with many-ness is a symptom of his uneasiness with his place as an author in a commercial culture Henry James had characterized by its "multiplication. For Stein. however. He must serve. . and instead of the continued suspense and feeling of horror.6 One reviewer. it is often unclear which of the two is really at issue. in Johnson 70). only repeats the Op's observation within the novel of an excess of killing: "[T]here'sbeen what? A dozen and a half murders since I've been here. the reader wonders just what it was all about" (Layman 97).

in this context. that the falcon remains merely a commodity. but almost purposeless in its lack of coherence. And this suggests. In this construction the purer realm of "literature"is not so much realized in the work as produced as the work's timeless negative image. Gutman refuses "to guess": "You'dthink me crazy. notoriously. an uninhabited." The Maltese Falcon has relatively few characters. in Johnson 54-55. producing many characters represents the many. are the most elusive and difficult of literary accomplishments" (qtd. first. though tentatively.. that it wasn't what you wanted" (203). and which no accumulation of riches won by his writing can buy for him. but never truly satisfies.8 But. I believe we should read the pursuit of the graillike statuette in The Maltese Falcon. There's no telling how high it could go. This counterfeit continues Hammett's distinction between the "colored bubbles" he produces in his fiction and the transcendental thing to which he aspires. and that's the one and only truth about it" (130). It is probably no accident that the novel that produces an image of "timeless" value is precisely the novel of Hammett's upon which literary history begins. When Sam Spade asks Gutman what the "maximum" value of the "dingus" might be. like that of the grail itself. resists periodicity as such. so to speak. of the Maltese Falcon as object. not the real thing. Its formal unity. I don't know. an object centuries old but now lost. not mine. while murdering them symbolically resists the imposition of a social relation between writer and audience. Hammett suggests here that he intended the sparseness of his prose to resist the incoherence of the man on the street for whom he nonetheless wrote. For the falcon's very pricelessness suggests that its value.9 The sarcasm Hammett heaps upon the novelist Fitzstephen's Holy Grail Cult in The . In this familiar account the commodity provokes."while "[s]implicityand clarity . the object actually acquired in the novel turns out to be a fake. if realized. or "timely" social history. as one biographer puts it. would transcend the logic of exchange. a desire for the existential plenitude it represents. It's your hard luck. Similarly. trapped in the logic of commodity fetishism as described by Marx. sir.7 The Maltese Falcon as novel aspires to the absolute value.American Literary History 713 Hammett once averred that the language of the street is in fact "not only excessively complicated and repetitious. "[makes]no concession to magazine publication" (Layman 107) and. and its small number of murders all occur offstage. or unity. Thus Spade says to Gutman. demanding payment for his services even though the falcon has turned out to be fake: "You got your dingus.. asocial space. see also Marling 116-18). to confer the status of "literature.

" mett access to high-culture institutions meant the unification of his serial fragments in the form of the beautiful Knopf book. Maybe some of them are important. the spectral unity of "The Waste Land"'s fragments. so many. which Weston argues had its origins in ancient rites surrounding the harvest." His last reason is the "eighth-but that's enough. But look at the number of them" (214). ultimately collapses back into the multiplicity so evident in the earlier novels. / I had not thought death had undone so many" (39)-an image that in a sense looks forward to the carnage.. Eliot the hermetic "heap of broken images" (38) of "The Waste Land" (1922) had become the proper form of modern poetry. for T.714 Hammett andHigh Culture Dain Cursecould in this context be read as a measure of his sense that the time of a legitimate theological culture has passed and that the obvious religious preoccupations of his own work as a novelist can only unfold in the similarly debased form of the dingus. so bothersome to his editors and critics. Eliot figures London life in "The Waste Land" as a bleak urban desert. the "red harvest. "A crowd flowed over the London Bridge. Without denying the obvious differences between the two texts. S. by his reading of Jessie Weston's analysis in From Ritual to Romance of the grail legend.. And while Hammett declined to pursue the project of Christian cultural renewal that . In the context of elite modernism.. the producer of "literature. was required to make sense. even as for Hammodernist. for a sucker. he tells us. then. His seventh reason is a question of odds.. which Spade proceeds to list." of the many characters of Personville. but only to state the impotence of his love in the face of the sheer multiplicity of practical reasons she should be hanged. In Eliot's case the high-culture reader could be asked to supply. Inspired. something like the chaos of Hammett's first two novels. deprived of spiritual nourishment. I won't argue about that. he does so. When the treacherous Brigid O'Shaughnessy begs Sam Spade to admit that he loves her. that is.then.. since he does not "even like the idea of thinking that there might be one chance in a hundred that" he is being "played . The comparatively "low" Hammett. In the Unreal City of his poem.1 Predictably. as an erudite hermeneut. The Maltese Falcon. This confession of failure to find the One is precisely what in retrospect will make Hammett appear so much the shadow Indeed. will be revalued as a sign of modernism's critique of romantic unities and traditional forms. speaking to the many. a study in narrative economy. we can see the degree to which protocols of reading determine what is normally asserted to be a quality inherent in the object itself.

Eliot became less concerned to champion the necessary pleasures of the popular. as he had in the essay "Wilkie Collins and Dickens"-less concerned to figure the dissociation of the high and low as the unfortunate rupture of a single thing. Modernistnovelistsin particular. books. however. in Gordon 192).American Literary History 715 Eliot would take up in later years. Steinattests. departing the rarefied milieu of the little magazines to appear. the true mystery of the relation of mass culture to modernism. it is true. For philosophical implications the high and of modernism's senseof failurein merging 3. Increasingly. "I likedthe look of those . Perhaps we could say."Every . Notes as the occasionalbest-sellerstatus of 1. 2.explaining 4. the self-appointed beacon of "literature" flashing from the mire of the social mass.. of symbolistself-inclusion.see Berman41-42.. neverlost sight of this genre'straditional intimacywith the idea." triesto make nowadays publisher whyshe beganto publishwithKnopf. see Irwin. then. This irony is in many ways reciprocal to that in the career of the low modernist Hammett. suchas F ScottFitzgerald. not as single artifacts able to do work of God and Mammon at once but as two seemingly different kinds of object. "but as a celebrity" (qtd.On the cultural-institutional specificityof the modernist novel. of the mass audience. if not always the fact. andevenGertrude ErnestHemingway. in 1950. The cultural-hierarchicalcomplexities his later career presents are worth pondering. that in the convergence of Eliot and Hammett-each lamenting the absence of the grail." Eliot would lament. The pervasiveness this failureas modernto rewrite low has no doubtencouraged postmodernism ism'saspiration. since even as he began to speak in the unambiguous accents of privilege he was raised to the status of popular modernist icon. WillaCatherwouldwrite. if not finally to solve. "No one thinks of me as a poet any more. the cure for a divided culture-we begin to see. he became the impassioned spokesman for elite culture that he is now remembered to have been. on the cover of Time.1' In later years. Both works make conspicuous use of the "timeless" value of the Holy Grail as a measure of the inauthenticity of the merely "representational"culture in which they are produced and which in turn produces them. Lillian Hellman gives evidence that Hammett was reading "The Waste Land" around the time he wrote The Maltese Falcon (we know as well that Eliot was a fan of "low" detective fiction).

In The Maltese Falcon Hammett for the first time in his career uses third person narration. They must be human'). the object that he as an author-figure pursues..] is apt to produce personalities that do not obey the literary agent's rule ('The principal characters must be likeable. 11. in some respects of the Marxism of Fredric Jameson. In this way there is completion" (38-39). what we mean by "highness" is best understood not as a quality of certain objects but as a privileged relation to knowledge.716 Hammett and High Culture his books look interesting (jacket. Thus Hammett traces a constitutive lack at the center of individual identity-like that in the account of Jacques Lacan-to its origins in the social and historical realm. but. as a visible body. type. This fashion became widespread enough that historians of the publishing industry now refer to the late 1920s and '30s as a golden age of the American book. which is the novel itself.. Two other titles Hammett pondered for what eventually became Red Harvest-"The Seventeenth Murder" and "Murder Plus"-would have indicated the mathematical sublimity of this bloody project. About high literature's resistance to time. The word timely tells that master-pieces have nothing to do with time" (153). it was Alfred Knopf who set the fashion" (10). Thus are we told that "the steep. rounded slope of [Spade's] shoulders made his body seem almost conical-no broader than it was thick" (4). make-up). where in dialectical turn it is seen to produce the constitutive discrepancy internal to the individual representation. which allows Hammett to present his named detective. The modernist texts I have been examining here had the virtue at least of partly recognizing this fact. . 8. that do not lend themselves to [such] fantas[ies of friendship]" (60). no less than Gide's in The Counterfeitersto include its own authorship. Sam Spade.. The novel's quest.. in this case named after an object. 6. cover. 7. As John Guillory. which suggests the ontological intimacy of the object that Samuel Spade is. if he "'creates' character at all[. demonstrates in Cultural Capital: The Problem of Library Canon Formation (1993). In this Hammett appears precursive. By contrast Leavis would champion the highbrow novelist. is thus a quest for the reconstituted unity of author and book in the transcendental object that Stein describes as serving God: "Now serving god for a writer who is writing is writing anything directly. the relation between the thing done and the doer must be direct. 10. and the object. an object.. following Pierre Bourdieu. 5. it makes no difference what it is but it must be direct. 9. who. The transposition of the high/low division from the "Americanmind" to the realm of objects themselves is perhaps the most important and ultimately disabling legacy of modernism's failure to merge the high and low in a single object. Gertrude Stein observes that "the word timely as used in our speech is very interesting but you can any one can see that it has nothing to do with a master-piece. though they tended to understand it not as an outrage but as an opportunity: an opportunity to produce social distinctions within the "common" space of mass culture. On these grounds I would dispute James Naremore's claim that Hammett "managed to reconcile some of the deepest contradictions in his culture" (49). who similarly reads modern culture as a sort of fall into market relations (see Jameson 285).

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