Monday, January 6, 2014

In praise of Rex Stout

It is a secretly held conviction of mine that all art is leftist.

"Not much of a secret" you might say "If you're going around telling everyone on your blog."

But you'd be surprised at just how well contained and concealed everything I say here remains. People do not discuss amongst themselves. They like to put what I say in a tiny box, then put that box in a slightly larger tiny box, then put that box in a jar, then find an obliging old woman on a park bench somewhere smoking a cigar and ask her to exhale smoke into the jar. They seal the jar quickly before the cigar smoke can escape. Then they put the jar with other jars in shoebox which they stack in a closet. Metaphorically. Some of this is speculation. But I think it supports my position since you have already ceased considering my secretly held conviction and allowed it to retreat back into privacy.

Nevertheless, I do think all art is leftist. So I like it when a good artist casually throws that blunt, radical humanism right up front. I have been reading, with great pleasure, a variety of Rex Stout books, all concerning the detective Nero Wolfe, and related by Archie Goodwin. And to my enormous joy they are all filled with bits of this casual leftism. The best Rex Stout book I have read yet is called The Doorbell Rang (now on my official list of beloved books, which is starting to get more organized. The list is here). The Doorbell Rang is a mystery. But it is also, casually, about how the FBI is basically a force ruled by corrupt self interest and assertion of power. This was written during the Hoover era. It had a nice matter of fact quality to it. It worked pretty much like if some hot mystery writer wrote a book that was just casually assuming that the department of Homeland Security was commonly and normally unscrupulous and evil. They are, so, why not just let it be. It doesn't have to be the main point. It's not an expose', it just is so.

Here's another one like that from Rex Stout. It's from Over My Dead Body, which was written in, maybe 1939. Just a casual tossed off paragraph. A bit jokey, sure, but an awfully good joke. So, watch this little bit, thrown out from a late thirties book:

(Nero Wolfe is speaking) When an international financier is confronted by a holdup man with a gun, he automatically hands over not only his money and jewelry but also his shirt and pants, because it doesn't occur to him that a robber might draw the line somewhere.

Perfect, prescient and immensely suited to our times. It is too good for my own shoebox collection of jars, so I share it with you.

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