Titan as Nostalgia for the Future
“It was late, but
only by the clock.”
Kiss Me, Deadly
The Los Angeles Chandler wrote about was already gone. The same with Spillane’s New York. But there is a sci-fi noir futuristic LA and NYC latent in the imaginations of both writers—paradigmatic of sci-fi noir as a whole:
Already both these cities are unstructured cities—their social content anticipates and looks beyond the ‘50s and ‘60s. Both are already kinds of microcosms and forecast the new centerless city—in which the various classes have lost touch with each other because each is isolated in his own geographical compartment.
By a kind of accident then, Chandler and Spillane’s modernist detectives find themselves in a sci-fi noir postmodernist city—one which forecasts the social organization of the planet as a whole.
By 2050, the New LA and New NYC would have even greater paradigmatic power—crowned by the Titan Bonaventure-like architectures, prophesying the vast new multinational hyperspace of postmodernism.
Both Marlowe and Hammer are the functional equivalents of the “cognitive cartographers”—who helps us understand our own ill-defined location within this futuristic sci-fi noir postmodernist culture. Both are modernist heroes—cut adrift in a postmodernist cut-and-past world. Ironic distance keeps Marlowe pure in a corrupt universe—a pulp fictional universe granted depth precisely by the detective’s’ own ironic detachment from it.
But Hammer is different than Marlowe. “Down these mean streets,” Chandler begins a famous passage describing his detective, “a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid… He is he hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man yet an unusual man.”
But Hammer is different—he’s corruptible. He can’t tie together all the separate and isolated parts of day-to-day postmodernism which raises all sorts of questions. Hammer isn’t Marlowesque—that is, he doesn’t stand outside postmodernism and can’t rationalize, explain or judge it. It’s an impossible task under postmodernism—all critical distance and perspective collapses.
How can one desire a genuinely historical and dialectical analysis of a period—defined by its sheer discontinuity and eradication of historical depth? A Marlowe couldn’t flourish, presumably, within the complicated contours of postmodernism.
Or could such a desire be nourished by any Marlowesque appositional forces alive within postmodernism—residual or emergent forces in this context of late capitalism that could downplay or treat it at any great length.
What kind of different account of postmodern cultural dominance would follow if the work of sci-fi noir literature was included in the panoramic perspective that a futuristic Hammer would adopt on Titan?
Fredrik Jameson (“On Raymond Chandler,” Southern Review 6, 1970) isn’t alone in putting LA and southern California at the center of postmodernist culture.
The most important postmodernist sci-fi fiction to flood the futuristic writings about LA is Reyner Banham’s Titan: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (2049) and Edward Soja’s Postmodern Planetary Geographies (2050) concluding its theoretical argument with a culminating chapter entitled: “It All Comes Together on Titan.” They provide the fieldwork for Jameson’s postmodern theories on the archaeology of science fictions becoming reality.
The futuristic Titan landscapes in both these texts are like travel itineraries of Titan theorists of sci-fi noir postmodernism along the lines of Baudrillard Jameson—paradigmatic evocations of the space of futuristic postmodern warfare. Read as—the Californization of late capitalistic solar systemics.
“You’d stand there nailed in your tracks sometimes—no bearings and none in sight, thinking, Where the fuck am I?, fallen into some unnatural Earth-Saturn interface, a Titan corridor cut and bought and burned deep into the Rings of Saturn, and once we got there, we couldn’t remember how or what for.”
This is the mindset embodied in the figure of Marlowe the detective—whose cognitive function is rendered necessary by the proto-postmodernist space of LA. Since there is no longer any privileged experience in which the whole of the social structure can be grasped—a figure must be invented who can be superimposed on the society as a whole, whose routine and life pattern serve somehow to tie its separate and isolated parts together.
A sci-fi noir hermeneutic gesture needs to be completed—a hermeneutic gesture that’s alive and well, embodied in the figure of a savvy Mike Hammer who can go beyond the proto-postmodernist space of Los Angeles into the POMO sci-fi noir space of Titan.
The incorruptible, chivalric purity of Marlowe is outdated. Instead we have Hammer circulating amidst the human detritus of Titan being tainted by it, without any solitary, heroic or exemplary purity in the face of social corruption. None of that Marlowesque “honesty”—all that is taken for granted by Hammer in a purely cognitive, rather than moral, function: the decadence of the neo-noir detective can be understood as an organ of perception.
The Hammer image here is endowed with depth and solidarity; it entertains a powerful redemptive relation to the exterior world—both present and future. It instills desire in the reader to extend the sci-fi noir image’s solidity to the object world around it; it is even capable of conjuring up a formerly meaningful past, but still accessible, LA world. But Hammer’s world has lost all innocence and resonance to either the past world or to a context different than Titan.
The Titan image is a fetish representing the nostalgia for the present—the will to return to a period when there was still a certain distance between objects. It was a way of making us stare at a single commercial product—in hopes that our vision of all those around us would be transformed, that our new stare into the future would also be infused with depth and solidity, with the meaning of remembered objects and products, with the physical foundation and dimensions of the older Terran world of need.
Nostalgia for the present—not with Chandler himself producing nostalgic writing, but rather with the taste for Chandler among contemporary readers being a nostalgic one. Chandler evoking a world similar enough to our their own to seem very distant.
It is this periodization of Chandler—by way of historicizing the relationship of consumers to the commercial object world that is literary history.
Chandler with his LA and permanent industrial background which has come to resemble nature itself—this is where his noir lies between the inventive, creative energies of Balzac’s manufactured objects and the fetishized nostalgia of Warhol’s soup cans.
Chandler, then, is a true modernist in accordance with Jameson’s tripartite periodization of realism-modernism-postmodernism. But consider the difference between Chandler and Hammer.