Eros & Memory: Noir, Poetry, and the Past

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James Ellroy opens his roman noir or memoir of his mother’s death, The Black Dahlia, his fictionalization of her world, milieu, friends, associates, enemies, the cops that tried to unravel her unfortunate death; all the aspects of a life that Ellroy never had direct access too, only the leavings and losses, the “traces of traces” (Derrida) left in the dustbin of history, myth, fact, and other’s memories. As Ellroy describes it in his first paragraph:

I never knew her in life. She exists for me through others, in evidence of the ways her death drove them. Working backward, seeking only facts, I reconstructed her as a sad little girl and a whore , at best a could-have-been— a tag that might equally apply to me. I wish I could have granted her an anonymous end, relegated her to a few terse words on a homicide dick’s summary report, carbon to the coroner’s office, more paperwork to take her to potter’s field . The only thing wrong with the wish is that she wouldn’t have wanted it that way. As brutal as the facts were, she would have wanted all of them known. And since I owe her a great deal and am the only one who does know the entire story, I have undertaken the writing of this memoir.

Reading that again I find the sheer power of that emphatic statement “I never knew her in life.” to be an almost palpable invocation of loss as there ever was.

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