On the Relevance of Complex Work

Complex Simple, Wassily Kandinsky, 1939

In the study of history of crime writing in American literature, important observation for me personally is the contrast of language and style ( not for the obvious reason of difference in their time of performance but in terms of what styles audience was most ripe for) between Edgar Allan Poe’s oratorical and abstract work and Hammett’s simplified and vernacular tones, with Hemingway claimed by experts as a certain link between these two, although I would argue that. Hemingway’s prose is richer but not in the inaccessible realm of the former that to me is particularly attractive.

But inaccessibility is not a trait readers have come to admire as we have witnessed time and time again. Readers have voted for relatability and understanding to validate writers and film makers. And in relation to my study of Noirs, this only makes sense. Not every one can appreciate a Lynchian masterpiece. The nearness of Double Indemnity’s realism is far more enticing in entertainment than the distant complex surrealism of Blue Velvet. So should we give up on complex works?

Turns out not. While it is easy to see why transition from aristocratic settings to real life stories from streets of city’s jungle, classic detective to an eccentric detached one to eventually a hard-boiled stoic, whodunnit to the real life misery and bleakness of human condition in a crime, would all make it to popular changes drawn to realism and ease of understanding, it is origin of these later changes that is the complex work itself, that makes me a bit optimistic. Root of accessibility of the simple is in the complexity of the abstract, is my claim.

Poe gave us Sherlock (40 years before ACD) and motifs of Noir long before they were approved by audience in later versions. Later stories and styles might have been simplified for easier access to the readers, but in their fabric and takeaways is Poe’s dark themes and doomed characters later unintentionally or intentionally lifted by modern writers of pulp fiction, hard boiled tale, noirs, post noir Hollywood crime writing. While the popular work can reach way far and beyond than complex work, it constantly takes inspiration from the original idea of the complex work knowingly or unknowingly. And so the importance and relevance of complex work needs no further justification. Because of the originality and uniqueness of the complex work, an accessible work is born. The complex work by itself can never be replicated though.

Vaishali Paliwal



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