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Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1890626716
ISBN-10: 1890626716
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Editorial Reviews


Once the Sixties generation began its Long March through the institutions, conservatives started to despair of ever being able to counter what they saw as the uniform degradation of American culture. In the past couple of decades, however, more and more critics on the right have looked past the surfaces of seemingly antinomian and relativistic popular art and found serious and often positive meanings in it. One such writer is Thomas Hibbs, a Baylor University professor of ethics and culture, film critic for National Review Online, and author of Shows About Nothing, a 1999 study in which he found Nietzscheanism to be rampant in American pop culture. In Arts of Darkness, Hibbs examines the distinctively American popular art form known as noir.

Hibbs writes that, although noir seems bleak and cynical on the surface, the meaning behind the phenomenon is a good deal more complex and significantly more positive: What is significant about these films is not just that they present a dark and dismal world but that they display their main characters as on a quest for love, truth, justice, and even redemption. What interests Hibbs is the convergence of noir with the religious quest : Noir arises from the same impulses that prompted Pascal to write of the hiddenness of God, and of the faithful believer who seeks with groans.

Hibbs sees noir as engaging and critiquing the two major philosophical dangers of modernity: nihilism and Gnosticism. He writes: Enlightenment theorists promise liberation from various types of external authority: familial, religious, and political. But an unintended consequence of the implementation of Enlightenment theories is the elimination of freedom. The film noir vividly expresses this truth, as the protagonists find themselves ever more deeply enmeshed in the complex, bureaucratized, soulless modern cities and webs of uncaring institutions that are the consequence of the Enlightenment passion for controlling the world through science. In portraying the tragic limitations of the Enlightenment project, Hibbs argues, noir shows liberal modernity as a potential source of nihilism, a human existence devoid of any ultimate purpose or fundamental meaning, where the great tasks of inquiry and the animating quests that inspired humanity in previous ages cease to register in the human soul, a place where the very notion of a soul is suspect. --National Review, Feb 25, 2008

Hibbs makes a unique and valuable contribution to this endlessly fascinating subject, offering an interpretive grid for understanding the neo-gnosticism of so many popular films. Hibbs deserves much credit here for thickening the moral conscience of moviegoers beyond counting the number of dirty bits or blasphemies uttered. He is not afraid to talk religion and thereby give some recognizable content to the concept of redemption: "The religion of a humiliated, crucified God--inconceivable to natural reason--accounts for the paradoxes of human nature." --First Things, April 2008

About the Author

THOMAS S. HIBBS, PH.D., established his reputation as a highly original critic with his earlier book Shows About Nothing. His reviews and essays appear regularly in the national media. A former professor of philosophy at Boston College, Dr. Hibbs is now the Dean of the Honors College and Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Culture at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Spence Pub (February 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1890626716
  • ISBN-13: 978-1890626716
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,597,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Benjamin D. Steele on February 18, 2009
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I've so far only read this book in sections, but I wanted to give a brief review. I mainly just want to recommend it. Basically, if you're interested in noir and neo-noir films in relationship to Gnosticism, then there isn't a whole lot else even out there. This is a rare gem.

I've looked around quite a bit, and as far as I can tell there is only one other book that is comparable. Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film by Eric G. Wilson covers similar territory as this book. I actually read Wilson's book first and I was happy to discover that another author was actually writing about this convergence of subjects.

Both authors bring together diverse ideas using perceptive insight into cultural patterns. These books go much deeper than most books about movies.

Let me add one further comment. There is both a strength and a weakness to this book. Unlike Eric G. Wilson's book, Arts of Darkness is extrememly focused in that he heavily emphasizes the ideas of Pascal. I really appreciated this because I wasn't previously all that familiar with Pascal, but he leaves out the larger context. Pascal's ideas were a part of the Western intellectual tradition. Many other theologians and philosophers are relevant to the discussion. Pascal is far from being the only insightful view of the belief in God as hidden, Deus Absconditus. For example, it was central to Martin Luther's theology.

I also wish he had discussed Philip K. Dick in more detail. I was very happy to see that PKD was discussed in this book because there are few writers more relevant to the topic. My criticism is that he apparently lacked a broad understanding of PKD's ideas.
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This is a great book for those who are seeking a way to a more thoughtful existence. The author uses what some might consider "popular culture" as an entrance into a deeper way of thinking and living that will have you viewing everything in the world differently.
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Thomas Hibbs' Book, "Arts of Darkness," is an insightful and enjoyable journey into the world of Film Noir. Hibbs' discusses the themes of redemption in Noir through the vehicle of philosophic minds such as Blaise Pascal.

I would highly recommend this book.
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