Recently when PayPal, a financial services company that facilitates online payments for goods and services, told indie publisher Smashwords what it could and could not publish, we expected to see a fast and furious response not seen since 1957. That was the year San Francisco publisher City Lights fought both government and private censors who wanted to shred Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, now a literary classic.
On one side of history stand brave publishers like City Lights, Olympia Press, and Grove Press, standing firmly against the massive power of government and populist culture—while on the other, Smashwords kneels at the feet of its banker.
Our words in the inaugural issue of Noir Nation may be worth repeating:
Although the term noir, as applied to film and literary works, is of recent vintage, elements of noir can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Book of Ecclesiastes, and Dante’s Inferno, all existentially darker and more cruel than the harshest scenes in the books that fill the crime fiction shelves of 21st Century bookstores and libraries or the films that gave rise to the term. What we have seen over the last 65 years is a focusing of those loose elements into a laser beam that can carve its name in stone.
Noir Nation will go wherever there are readers hungry for works of literary fiction that explore the dark side of human experience. Fiction that pursues its own aesthetic ends, rather than the legitimate but competing interests of the marketing departments of commercial publishing houses.
We are not for everyone of course. We won’t publish controversial materials aimed at satisfying curiosity seekers or consumers looking for cheap thrills. Our cause is Literature—which can be controversial. Even Shakespeare was censored because his works were not deemed appropriate for women and children. Is there a work of crime fiction more noir than Hamlet? So we will not shy away from great writing that provides a deeper understanding of our humanity and inhumanity, or from visual art that supports that mission. Many Noir literary works depicting graphic scenes of cruelty or sexual passion (that are essential to the story and its aesthetic ends) never get published because the subject matter causes unease or because the topic is not trending in the markets. Someone has to fight for the right of these works to find an audience and for the right of an audience to read them.