Macquarie University

Gareth Beal


Mapping the Textual Genome: Post-Scripts, Post-Structuralism and Chandler's Poodle Springs




To borrow from Churchill's old line: creative writing is 'a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma' (Churchill 694). The riddle is whether or not it can, in the truest sense of the word, be 'taught'.

The mystery, it seems to me, is that many of the most prominent sceptics are actually teachers within the discipline itself. Comments such as those made by poet-critic Louis Simpson are indicative of the general view:

About the best you can do is show good writers where they're making mistakes, where something can be improved. But at least half of the students in creative-writing classes have no real talent. All you can do is pat them on the head and try not to hurt their feelings. (quoted in Stitt 1985: 145)

The enigma is that the majority of the 'untalented' masses (certainly not those attending creative writing classes) would be liable to agree with him. And if a hint of vanity may be detected behind Simpson's invocation of talent, the same charge can be levelled at these others as well. According to Nietzsche:

Because we think well of ourselves, but in no way expect that we could ever make the sketch to a painting by Raphael or a scene like one in a play by Shakespeare, we convince ourselves that the ability to do so is quite excessively wonderful, a quite uncommon accident, or, if we still have a religious sensibility, a grace from above. Thus our vanity, our self-love, furthers the worship of the genius, for it does not hurt only if we think of it as very remote from ourselves, as a miracle. (Nietzsche 1878: 110-111)

For the purpose of what is to follow, then, the proposition that writing cannot be taught will be conceived of as a literary 'Creation Myth'.

The predictable alternative is a theory of artistic evolution, such as that proposed by Harold Bloom: 'No one "fathers" or "mothers" his or her own poems, because poems are not "created," but are interpreted into existence, and by necessity they are interpreted from other poems' (Bloom 1982: 244). And, as in nature, a writer's evolution proceeds, according to David Lodge, by a series of 'kick-start[s] - that is, they begin by imitating and emulating the literature that gives them the biggest kicks' (Lodge 1996: 171). Lodge acknowledges his own indebtedness to the influence of Graham Greene ('how to use a few selected details…to evoke character or sense of place'), Evelyn Waugh ('how to generate comedy by a combination of…the familiar and the incongruous') and James Joyce ('how to make a modern story re-enact, echo or parody a mythical or literary precursor-narrative') (Lodge 1996: 172). What is clear in any case is that the study of admired authors is a valuable, perhaps even an essential component in the teaching of creative writing.

The question is what form this should take. What Lodge appears to be describing is the literary equivalent of an art student's detail, whereby an isolated section of a past master's work is reproduced and studied outside the context of the surrounding image. This approach is not without its perils however, as Roland Barthes discovered during his short-lived apprenticeship in classical drawing: 'I copy and naïvely connect detail to detail; whence unexpected "conclusions": the horseman's leg turns out to be perched right on top of the horse's breastplate, etc' (Barthes 1975: 93-94).

The peril of studying literary details is that students will lose sight of the 'big picture'; that is, the context (plot, point of view, etc) in which, say, Greene evokes character or a sense of place. Taken out of their frame, it is questionable whether such details can be understood at all. Indeed, the seeds of this objection are by no means new, having been planted in the earliest stages of the creative writing debate, in Henry James's The Art of Fiction (1884):

I cannot imagine composition existing in a series of blocks, nor conceive, in any novel worth discussing at all, of a passage of description that is not in its intention narrative, a passage of dialogue that is not in its intention descriptive, a touch of truth of any sort that does not partake of the nature of incident, or an incident that derives its interest from any other source than the general and only source of the success of a work of art - to be illustrative. A novel is a living thing, all one and continuous, like any other organism, and in proportion as it lives will it be found, I think, that in each of the parts there is something of each of the other parts. (James 1884: 34)

This leads me to conclude that the solution is to retrace the text in its entirety, which is not to say that James would agree: 'The critic who over the close texture of a finished work shall pretend to trace a geography of items will mark some frontiers as artificial, I fear, as any that have been known to history' (James 1884: 34). The same is true for Lodge: 'Even a single sentence in a novel is a complex product of innumerable chains of cause and effect which reach deep into the writer's life and psyche. To distinguish, analyse and retrace them all would be impossible' (Lodge 1996: 178). Furthermore, he argues, 'a creative writer who tries to make his students clones of himself [or any other writer, presumably] is doing them the worst possible service' (Lodge 1996: 176, emphasis mine).

By invoking the spectre of cloning, Lodge in effect casts writing teachers as literary geneticists who to a greater or lesser degree mediate the 'natural' evolution of their students' craft. Or perhaps the analogy just appeals to me because it is my position that, like genes, details from the writings of Greene, Waugh or Joyce cannot be isolated until the 'genome' of their corresponding texts has first been mapped, i.e. until they are understood within the context of the whole. I would not dispute James' view that this geography is artificial, however I will attempt to demonstrate that its artificiality is not inherently problematic. For the moment it may suffice to note that the alternative, as exemplified by Barthes' horseman, can produce its own undesirable mutations.

Of course, it might also be noted that Lodge's warnings against the dangers of literary cloning transcend even critical consensus and exist more in the realm of commonsense. This does not mean that they are warranted. According to Bloom:

Few notions are more difficult to dispel than the "commonsensical" one that a poetic text is self-contained, that it has an ascertainable meaning or meanings without reference to other poetic texts… Unfortunately, poems are not things but only words that refer to other words, and those words refer to still other words, and so on, into the densely overpopulated world of literary language. Any poem is all inter-poem, and any reading of a poem is an inter-reading. A poem is not writing, but rewriting, and though a strong poem is a fresh start, such a start is a starting again. (Bloom 1976: 2-3)

This notion of freshness, arguably writing's highest value (in critical circles, though not necessarily in the popular market), is perhaps less a matter of saying something new than of arranging what has already been said in new ways. Even if I were to convince myself that, between its quoted passages from Bloom et al, sections of this article are wholly original, the sum of its readers will undoubtedly detect echoes of past theorists in every thought and phrase. That I cannot name these precursors is testament only to my relative ignorance; that I am aware of my ignorance commends me in that at least I am not naïve. The advantage of textual mapping/rewriting is not that it prevents student writers from reinventing the wheel; however, by enacting this reinvention consciously, it does increase the possibility that they will find new ways of 'spinning' it.

The supposed disservice of this approach is that it will prevent student writers from developing their own voice, but in fact there is evidence to suggest that the opposite is true. After all, if writing in another's voice (style, structure, thematic preoccupations, etc) is indeed a form of literary constraint, at once a self-imposed handicap and a crutch, it is essentially no different to writing in a particular poetic form or meter, or learning to walk gracefully by balancing a book on your head. Grace is achieved not only because of the book, but also in spite of it, and this becomes even more evident once the book has been discarded. Moreover, no one would be likely to suggest that discarding the book might somehow present a problem (if students of deportment suffered from the same lack of self-determination so commonly ascribed to writers, the history of millinery might have taken an altogether bizarre turn). In fact, writers have successfully adopted and discarded literary constraints for years. As Colin Symes remarks:

the imposition of constraints and the exercise of rugged linguistic drill appears to produce increased fluency, particularly in cases of less disciplined forms of writing. W.H. Auden, for instance, noted that having set himself the task of writing rhopalic hexameters, he found that the words flowed very easily when composing within much less complex forms. (Symes 1999)

For a writer such as Georges Perec, whose experiments in self-imposed handicaps included writing a three-hundred page novel without using the letter 'e' (La Disparition [A Void, 1979]), the use of constraints actually stimulated his creativity to the extent that 'many of his texts almost wrote themselves' (Symes 1999). It is worth observing, after Symes, that this bears a nominal resemblance to 'inspired automatic writing' (Symes 1999).

Automatic writing is also one of the lesser miracles of the Creation Myth, but pales into insignificance compared to the central myth of the artistic vision or gestalt, whereby a complete and self-contained composition appears in the artist's mind while they might otherwise be preoccupied reading the newspaper, weeding the garden, or in their bed asleep. But is it a myth? On the contrary, Mike Sharples contends that this phenomenon is not even the province of a gifted few:

Far from being rare, the perception of serial events as a composite whole is the basis for everyday perception. Our eyes continually move around a scene, yet we perceive the scene as a single image. Seeing is a natural and essential activity, and this may be the next clue: the musician or writer is so practised that composing becomes natural and essential. (Sharples 1999: 50)

This phenomenon can also be simulated. For the less 'talented' or 'visionary' student writer, Sharples offers the following pragmatic alternative:

The only way to perform complex knowledge manipulation with a limited short-term memory is to capture ideas on paper (or some other external medium such as a tape recorder or computer screen) not only as a finished product, but also in the form of external representations that stand in place of mental structures… (Sharples 1999: 51)

…in James's words, an 'artificial geography', and it may be suggested that an example of such a geography can be found in Barthes' S/Z [1970a]. Briefly summarised, S/Z is a post-structural analysis of Honoré de Balzac's short story 'Sarrasine' (1830), in which the text is divided up into 561 fragments or 'lexias' and catalogued according to five semantic codes, with the intention of providing not a single, authoritative (authorial) interpretation, but rather a polysemous, 'plural' reading (Barthes 1970a: 16). Renouncing the idea of a structural model to which all texts could then be applied, the gradual, 'step-by-step' unfolding of its analysis instead traces the order of the reading itself (left to right, top to bottom, page by page), producing what Barthes describes as a 'structuration' or 'writing-reading' (Barthes 1991: 73). In short, S/Z is an externalised representation of the reading process: 'the decomposition (in the cinematographic sense) of the work of reading: a slow motion, so to speak' (Barthes 1970a: 12).

As a model for mapping a text's genome, S/Z is ideally suited for two reasons. The first of these reasons can be found in the underlying theory of its related precursor-text. Despite being the object of several decades of (often posturing) debate, the central thesis of 'The Death of the Author' (1967) (note 1) is simply, to agree with James, that a text is not composed of a series of blocks, but rather a tapestry of semantic threads, woven together by the reading subject: 'a text's unity lies not in its origin but in its destination' (Barthes 1967: 148). What is mapped in the text is not the mind of its 'Author-God' (Barthes 1967: 146), or a template for all texts, or even the monolithic sum of all its possible readings (one reading for all); what it traces instead are the multitude of readings contained within a single individual (all for one). The goal of an S/Z-style analysis, accordingly, is not so much interpretative as it is corporeal, by investing the reader 'in the production, not the product' (Barthes 1991: 189). It allows the reader to 'speak' the text (Barthes 1991: 73) rather than to say any one thing about it, because while conventional criticism 'rests on the notion that the text contains insignificant elements', the proliferation of meaning that it exemplifies 'does not support the separation of foundation and design, insignificant and significant...: everything signifies something' (Barthes 1970a: 51). Finally, then, and most importantly within the context of this article: 'if one or another of these [meanings] are sometimes permitted to come forward, it is in proportion' (Barthes 1970a: 6).

The other advantage of the S/Z model is that it 'permits the rewriting of texts' (Barthes 1991: 110). The problem for student writers is not that they are unable to weave together the threads of their reading, but rather that these threads are fed from the narrative spool in a very specific order, i.e. the order of the reading itself. Barthes' concept of rewriting is therefore significantly dependent upon a corresponding concept of rereading. To illustrate this significance, he offers an example from the text of 'Sarrasine,' in which the title-character becomes the victim of a case of mistaken sexual identity (his mistake, that is):

A second reading, the reading which places behind the transparency of suspense (placed on the text by the first avid and ignorant reader) the anticipated knowledge of what is to come in the story, this further…retrospective reading bestows upon Sarrasine's kiss a precious enormity: Sarrasine passionately kisses a castrato (or a boy in drag); the castration is transposed onto Sarrasine's own body and we ourselves, second readers, receive the shock. Thus it would be wrong to say that if we undertake to reread the text we do so for some intellectual advantage (to understand better, to analyze on good grounds): it is actually and invariably for a ludic advantage: to multiply the signifiers, not to reach some ultimate signified. (Barthes 1970a: 165)

As with his concept of rewriting (which actually refers to the production of meaning), Barthes' concept of rereading is essentially symbolic. Rather than literally rereading the text (a difference between readings), this symbolic rereading is achieved through the application of S/Z's codes, 'producing' the text in its plurality (a difference within a single reading: 'a difference of which each text is the return' (Barthes 1970a: 3)). His claim therefore is not that a foreknowledge of events in the text will multiply the signifiers contained in its analysis; it is, more radically, that the multiplication of the signifiers will provide the reader with a foreknowledge of events within the text.

Has it never happened, as you were reading a book, that you kept stopping as you read, not because you weren't interested, but because you were: because of a flow of ideas, stimuli, associations? In a word, haven't you ever happened to read while looking up from your book? (Barthes 1970b: 29)

If the details drawn from an S/Z-style analysis do indeed exist in proportion to each other as a coherent structure 'of ideas, stimuli, associations', then certainly it would seem possible 'to read while looking up'. Here the predictive aspect of simultaneous rereading becomes an acid test for the efficacy of the model as a whole: it is one thing to read the outcome of a story in its earliest stages when one can peek ahead anyway, but would this still be the case with the safety net removed? If discernible patterns really do exist, it follows that it should also be possible to extend the structure of an unfinished text, tracing its semantic trajectory in the same way that a child joins the dots on an otherwise blank page, filling it with pictures.

The remainder of this article will therefore be devoted to proving this hypothesis through an analysis of 'The Poodle Springs Story', the beginnings of Raymond Chandler's last Philip Marlowe novel, comprising only four chapters upon his death in 1959. This will demonstrate the model's other practical application (as a tool for completing unfinished texts), but I would stress that my objective in doing so here is merely to prove (insofar as this is possible) that it works. In terms of writing courses, its purpose may more usefully be the mapping / symbolic rewriting of completed texts, as the basis for a literal rewriting of one part or another, the model then being reapplied to this revised section as a way of analysing/editing the results.

First things first, however. To begin with, what little there is of Chandler's novel can be outlined as follows: Marlowe arrives in Poodle Springs with his new bride Linda Loring (who proposed to him at the end of his previous adventure, Playback [1958]) at a house she has rented for the season. As the daughter of millionaire businessman, Harlan Potter, Linda is extremely wealthy, a fact which doesn't sit well with her husband. Despite her attempts to dissuade him, Marlow is determined to return to his work as a private detective and drives into town to look for an office. Whilst there he is approached on the street by a man named Manny Lipshultz. Lipshultz is the owner of a place on the outskirts of town known as 'The Agony Club'. He claims his life is in danger. Unwilling to commit to anything before he gets settled, Marlowe gives Lipshultz his number and checks in at the police station, whereupon he comes to realise that his recent marriage has made him something of a local celebrity. On the way home he is accosted by a couple of men in Lipshultz's employ. Overcoming them, he arrives at the house and tells Linda of his confrontation. She seems unconcerned or, at best, unable to relate to the story.

Is it possible to derive a plot from these four chapters, whose sum total consists of little more than 4000 words? Renowned crime writer (and the person considered by most to be the heir-apparent to Chandler's throne), Robert B. Parker, evidently thought so, going on to complete the novel in 1989 as Poodle Springs (Chandler and Parker 1989). Others were more circumspect, with Ed McBain's review in the New York Times providing a typical example of the critical consensus. Like most of his peers, McBain sees the novel as a mixed success, reserving the majority of his criticism for Chandler, particularly with regard to the (ultimately superfluous) subplot of Marlowe's marriage to Linda, but also for his writing in general: 'It is difficult to believe that the first four chapters of "Poodle Springs" were intended by Chandler to be finished work' (McBain 1989) (note 2). Towards Parker, McBain is more forgiving:

one of the true delights in "Poodle Springs" is to watch this engaging writer as first he tests the impossible shackles fastened to his wrists and his ankles, then breaks free of them to charge exultantly down a road Chandler himself might have chosen in his prime. (McBain 1989)

Having 'set the scene', an S/Z-style analysis of Poodle Springs' first four chapters can now be attempted. Given that this analysis in its entirety is longer than Chandler's text itself (comprising in total no less than 122 annotated lexias), it is necessary in the context of this article to reduce this to a brief representative sample, with definitions of the five codes and summarised results to follow:

[27] The guest bath had a shower and a dressing table and a four-by-three mirror over it. The hi-fi system had speakers in every room. Augustino had turned it on softly. He appeared in the door, smiling and bowing. He was a nice-looking lad, part Hawaiian and part Japanese. Linda had picked him up when we made a short trip to Maui before going to Acapulco. It's wonderful what you can pick up if you have eight or ten million dollars. * ACT. 'House': 8: to inspect the house. ** HER. Enigma 3 ('What is the source of Linda's wealth?'): thematisation. Linda is worth between eight and ten million dollars. *** SEM. Objectification. Augustino is part of the house, another Oriental furnishing 'picked up' for a price. **** REF. Chronology. Marlowe and Linda made a short trip to Maui en route to Acapulco.

[28] There was an interior patio with a large palm tree and some tropical shrubs, and a number of rough stones picked up on the high desert for nothing, but $250 apiece to the customer. * ACT. 'House': 9: to inspect the house. ** Wealth is here equated with a separation from the natural world (SYM. Antitheses A: Wealth, Alien). (note 3)

Beginning in the order they arise, the proairetic code is the code of actions (ACT) within a text. Consisting of a guideword (in this case, 'House'), all entries under this heading are numbered and unfolded into a series of supplementary definitions, such as to criticise the house, to enter through the front door or, as above, to inspect the house.

The hermeneutic code (HER) relates to questions posed by a text and to the answers it provides to those questions. Once identified, each enigma is catalogued under a series of sub-headings, including but not limited to: proposal, formulation, promise of/request for an answer and snare. The heading here is thematisation: 'an emphasizing of the subject [eight to ten million dollars] which will be the object of the enigma ["What is the source of Linda's wealth?"]' (Barthes 1970a: 209-210).

The semic or semantic code (SEM) is the code of connotations. These may apply both to people and to places, but most frequently the former. Semes predominantly relate to character, with objectification constituting Augustino's only entry under the code. This is hardly surprising: in the story, as in the house, his chief purpose is to serve as part of the scenery.

In an analysis published the year before S/Z as 'The Structural Analysis of Narrative: Apropos of Acts 10-11' (1969), Barthes established as many as twelve codes, including the narrative, topographic, historical, rhetorical, chronological and meta-linguistic, all of which later became subsets of the cultural code. In short, the cultural code catalogues references (REF) to any body of knowledge contained within a text, whether common, specialised, or esoteric (e.g. REF. Nineteenth-century parlour games).

Finally, the symbolic code or 'field' as Barthes calls it (SYM) encompasses a variety of symbolic languages: medieval, psychological, rhetorical and so on. In the example from Poodle Springs, the code relates to the last of these, representing one half (the 'A' term) of a series of antitheses, which shape the structure of the novel as a whole.

Results drawn from the application of these codes to Chandler's four chapters can be summarised as follows:

1. The narrative should never stray too far from home: this idea is prefaced in the overall arc of proaireses, which begin at the house, move into town and finally return to the house again. Whether Chandler would have continued this pattern of comings and goings (home/away) is not certain, though Marlowe's meeting with Lipshultz suggests its likelihood, the penultimate entry in that particular sequence of actions occurring when he offers the latter his telephone number. Having failed to secure an office, the question is: Which number? The most plausible answer presents an attractive contradiction: that Marlowe plans to conduct his hardboiled trade from the incongruous setting of the den in his pristine house in the suburbs. This would likewise be in keeping with the symbolic antitheses, which repeatedly intermingle with one another throughout the text.

2. The quest for truth is a quest for self-knowledge: another reason why the story should never stray too far from home is due to the allegorical nature of Poodle Springs itself. Having established the allegory, it would be pointless to thereafter abandon it for the traditional setting of Los Angeles. Allegory is one of a number of instances of medieval symbolism in the text, which also includes concepts of 'Destiny' and 'The Quest.' In the romance tradition, a knight's quest is often at the same time a quest for self-knowledge, a convention mirrored in the first of the text's hermeneutic enigmas: 'Who is Marlowe?' As both the narrator and the narrative (Marlowe's first-person perspective constitutes the very substance of the text), the solution to the mystery is inextricably linked to the resolution of the contradictions within Marlowe himself, paralleled in both the symbolic antitheses and the semes, the latter in turn mirroring the proairetic structure home/away with its own, parallel dichotomy of sex/violence.

3. Marlowe's marriage to Linda is an integral part of the plot: the second of the hermeneutic enigmas ('What is the relationship between Marlowe and Linda?') can be usefully linked with two of the cultural codes; namely, the 'Code of Courtship' and the 'Code of Literature'. If Marlowe is conceived of as a modern-day knight, Linda is obviously his lady; but if in seeking answers to the case he is also seeking his own identity, a defining part of this (literary) identity is that the detective is a 'loner'. The dissolution of his marriage is therefore integral to the solution of the mystery, and the form of that dissolution is prefaced both in the proairetic sequence 'Display of Affection' and, again, in the symbolic antitheses. Within the economy of their marriage there are two distinct currencies: Linda's wealth and Marlowe's sexuality, each offered as a counteractive measure to the other, and both invariably rejected. The relationship is built on self-denial, and as such will collapse at the moment of the exchange of these economies: when Linda gives ('sells') herself to Marlowe and he allows himself to be seduced ('bought').

4. Lipshultz hires Marlowe with Linda's money: whereas the majority of Marlowe's flirting with Linda may be coded under the proairetic guideword 'Display of Affection', a similar scene at the end of the fourth chapter demands an altogether different interpretation. On this later occasion, Marlowe makes reference to his (flirtatious) encounter with 'an exquisitely pretty blonde policewoman' (Chandler and Parker 1989: 28). The currency of his affections, his sexuality, passes from Linda through the young policewoman and back to Linda again - as it were, tainted. To maintain the symbolic (antithetical) balance between the newlyweds, it would therefore be necessary for the currency of Linda's affections, her wealth, to filter down to Marlowe in a similar fashion, but the only way that Marlowe will accept money is at his detective's rate of $40.00 a day. Assuming that Lipshultz is going to be 'the client', why (or for that matter, how) would someone wealthy enough to own his own nightclub hire Marlowe with Linda's money? The solution may lie in another of the text's enigmas, 'What is the source of Linda's wealth?', to which the answer is of course that Linda's wealth derives from her father, Harlan Potter. If Lipshultz's wealth also derives from Potter, then in a sense he would be hiring Marlowe with 'Linda's' money.

5. Harlan Potter is the villain of the piece: this final point stems from the previous one, as well as from the last two hermeneutic enigmas: 'Why does Lipshultz hire Marlowe?' and 'What are the intentions of Lipshultz's men?' In the formulation of the first of these enigmas, Lipshultz himself provides a clue: 'I got something for you maybe… Harlan Potter's son-in-law, huh? That rings a lot of bells' (Chandler and Parker 1989: 21). The implication of this is that Potter is in some way related to Lipshultz's predicament, his subsequent claim that he 'may not be alive that long' (Chandler and Parker 1989: 21) providing a whole new level of menace to Linda's passing remark that 'Father will pop in soon and start buying up the town' (Chandler and Parker 1989: 28). Finally, Lipshultz says to Marlowe: 'I need a good man' (Chandler and Parker 1989: 21), implying a lack of confidence (or trust) in his own employees. That Lipshultz operates on the wrong side of the law is already established in the text (Chandler and Parker 1989: 23-24), therefore for him to fear for his life suggests that the threat is from a wealthier (hence more powerful) criminal, presumably his superior within the hierarchy of a wider crime syndicate. With Potter coming to town anyway, it would be sloppy plotting to make it anyone else. Lipshultz's men may even be keeping an eye on him until 'the boss' arrives, and by accosting Marlowe are not acting under Lipshultz's instructions at all (instructions which, given their earlier encounter, make decidedly little sense).

In light of these results, it is possible to construct the framework of a basic plot, which takes the following form: Lipshultz is a mobster in trouble with his 'godfather', Harlan Potter. According to the typology of American crime syndicates (REF), for this trouble to be fatal, it most likely involves either embezzled (mob) money, or else a desire to leave the syndicate altogether. Perhaps both: wanting to leave the syndicate, Lipshultz 'cooked' his nightclub's books in collaboration with a mob accountant, who then disappeared with the funds, leaving him 'holding the bag'. Marlowe would be hired to find the accountant, but in any case won't be able to stop Potter having Lipshultz killed, because it would take a crime as serious as murder to compel him to turn his father-in-law over to the police. Previously unaware of her father's occupation, Linda would nevertheless do her best to talk Marlowe out of it, finally seducing him into bed. Afterwards, Marlowe would change his mind and take Potter in anyway, effectively bringing an end to the marriage.

This plot is decidedly different from Parker's (which involves bigamy, pornography, and a $100,000 IOU); nevertheless, it is the similarities between the two that offer the most telling contrasts. In Parker's version (which, I should add, I hadn't read until my analysis was complete), the main antagonists are also a crime-boss and his daughter. Instead of using Potter and Linda however, he creates veritable 'clones' of these characters in the form of Clayton and Muriel Blackstone. As a result, Potter never makes it to town at all, and Linda is reduced to a narrative 'loose-end'. Similarly, Parker sets most of his version in Los Angeles, thereby all-but abandoning the allegorical setting of Poodle Springs. It is for this reason that critics like McBain are led to view the preoccupations of Chandler's chapters (Marlowe's marriage, establishing the setting) as mere filler. Even Marlowe's search for an office (Chapter 3) is resolved in Parker's version in the opening line of his first chapter. This is not to suggest that Parker's version is 'bad' (in fact, it is well worth reading) but it does demonstrate the importance (and, when ignored, the negative effects) of context. While managing to get many of the details right, Parker's version ultimately loses sight of the (Chandler's) 'big picture'.

Of course, it is precisely the details that are missing from my analysis as it is presented here, which includes a variety of unmentioned narrative and thematic observations (such as instances in the text of the metaphor of poker) and, perhaps more significantly, entries relating to style (Chandler's idiosyncratic use of similes, for example). These I hope to discuss in a future article, but for now it is enough to emphasise the way in which the reading 'holds together' (Barthes 1970a: 156), its codes cohering with and reinforcing one another, existing in proportion to each other as an externalised representation of one reader's (my) mental structures, i.e. as the 'big picture' from which such details can, at that later time, be 'drawn'.

Having 'read while looking up', the next step would be to extend Chandler's unfinished text in a piece of creative writing. The presentation of that piece of writing will also have to be left aside for the time being, because to include even a small sample in its proper, annotated context (in its production, not simply as a product) would eclipse the scope of the current article. What can be mentioned is that its four chapters (5-8), comprising over 4000 words, were written in a period of only four days. In light of the speed at which I normally write (this article, for example, which is half as long again, required a total of six weeks), this was nothing short of a 'miracle'. The difference was that in spite of the constraints of trying to write in another's voice, I found that my creative decisions were remarkably unconstrained, purposeful - indeed, almost 'automatic'. Over those four days, in effect, I was like a man possessed.

Barthes once wrote: 'I have a disease: I see language' (Barthes 1975: 161). This disease, in any case analogous to the gestalt visions that underpin the literary Creation Myth, is conceived of as such because, after S/Z, Barthes began to move away from conventional criticism toward increasingly fictive (hence scandalous or by his definition, 'novelistic') writings (Barthes 1975: 119-120). This vision is not introspective, as likewise the mapping of a textual genome traces not a (self-) portrait, but a (literary) landscape. It is, again, a map of that landscape, distanced from it, allowing the student writer to be no more inside the writing (unable to see the forest for the trees) than the writing is inside them (as the myth would have it: a 'God-given talent'). It provides a sense of perspective, which characterises the relationship between all readers/writers and texts: 'To know that writing…is precisely there where you are not - this is the beginning of writing' (Barthes 1977: 100).


1) Barthes' essay has proven so contentious that critics can't even agree on the year of its publication, many incorrectly citing it as 1968; see Nesbit 1987: 240-241. Return to text

2) McBain's hunch is correct. As Chandler remarked in one of his letters, 'You never quite know where your story is until you have written the first draft of it. So I always regard the first draft as raw material' (Chandler 2000: 78). Return to text

3) For these passages in their unannotated form, see Chandler and Parker 1989: 13-14. Return to text


Barthes, Roland 1991. The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962-1980. Tr. Linda Coverdale. California: Univ of California Press. Return to text

Barthes, Roland 1977. A Lover's Discourse: Fragments. Tr. Richard Howard. London: Penguin, 1990. Return to text

Barthes, Roland 1975. Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. Tr. Richard Howard. California: Univ of California Press, 1994. Return to text

Barthes, Roland 1970a. S/Z. Tr. Richard Miller. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996. Return to text

Barthes, Roland 1970b. 'Writing Reading'. The Rustle of Language. Tr. Richard Howard. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986: 29-32. Return to text

Barthes, Roland 1969. 'The Structural Analysis of Narrative: Apropos of Acts 10-11'. The Semiotic Challenge. Tr. Richard Howard. California: U of California P, 1994. 217-245. Return to text

Barthes, Roland 1967. 'The Death of the Author'. Image Music Text. Ed. and Tr. Stephen Heath. London: Fontana, 1977: 142-8. Return to text

Bloom, Harold 1982. Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism. New York: Oxford UP, 1983. Return to text

Bloom, Harold 1976. Poetry and Repression: Revisionism from Blake to Stevens. New Haven: Yale UP. Return to text

Brophy, Kevin 1998. Creativity: Psychoanalysis, Surrealism and Creative Writing. Melbourne: Melbourne UP.

Chandler, Raymond 2000. The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Non-Fiction 1909-1959. Eds. Tom Hiney and Frank MacShane. London: Hamish Hamilton. Return to text

Chandler, Raymond and Robert B. Parker 1989. Poodle Springs. New York: Putnam. Return to text

Churchill, Winston S. 1939. 'The First Month of War'. Radio Broadcast, London. 1 October 1939. In Robert Rhodes James (ed.) Churchill Speaks: Winston S. Churchill in Peace and War, Collected Speeches, 1897-1963. Leicester: Winward, 1981: 694-697. Return to text

James, Henry 1884. 'The Art of Fiction'. In Leon Edel (ed.) The House of Fiction. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1957: 23-45. Return to text

Lodge, David 1996. 'Creative Writing: Can it/Should it be Taught?' The Practice of Writing. London: Secker & Warburg: 170-178. Return to text

McBain, Ed 1989. 'Philip Marlowe is Back, and in Trouble: Review of Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker'. New York Times Book Review 15 October: 35. <> Return to text

Nesbit, Molly 1987. 'What Was An Author?' Yale French Studies 73: 229-257. Return to text

Nietzsche, Friedrich 1878. Human, All Too Human. Tr. Marion Faber and Stephen Lehmann. London: Penguin, 1994. Return to text

Sharples, Mike 1999. How We Write: Writing as Creative Design. London and New York: Routledge. Return to text

Stitt, Peter 1985. The World's Hieroglyphic Beauty: Five American Poets. Athens, Georgia: Georgia University Press. Return to text

Symes, Colin 1999. 'Writing by Numbers: OuLiPo and the Creativity of Constraints'. Mosaic (Winnipeg) 32, 3 (September).!xrn_7_0_A56750205?sw_aep=macquarie Return to text


Gareth Beal recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing at Macquarie University.



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Vol 9 No 2 October 2005
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Jen Webb