A Page of Dust

Last class, we had a very interesting discussion about Fante’s Ask the Dust. I was pretty interested in it all, so I took some notes in order to remember what had been said. Planning for the future and stuff. I was looking at these notes and trying to decide what parts to talk about, when it occurred to me that it would be cool to show my page of notes, and just point out a few specific aspects of what we had discussed.

  1. This doodle here shows a person (a stick figure, since drawing is not my forte) with arrows connecting to the world (or a circle). Someone had brought up page 120, in which Arturo connects his suffering to the rest of all mankind. Seems pretty pretentious to me. Nevertheless, it sparked my interest. Fante writes “There came over me a terrifying sense of understanding about the meaning and the pathetic destiny of men. The desert was always there, a patient white animal, waiting for men to die, for civilizations to flicker and pass into the darkness.” This was the first time I actually saw a connection to the title, and I thought it really gave the novel it’s soul.
  2. In class and on his blog, Groom has been talking (thinking aloud) about how and why he chose to stick Ask the Dust in with all these noir novels. And I think this quote really sums it up: “It is asking the same question that’s behind noir, but without the murder.” (that may not be a direct quote.) In an earlier response to Groom in a comment thread, I had brought up the fact that hardboiled was like an egg, hard on the outside, full of murders and double crossings, but soft on the inside. Noir is simply asking the same question that all of literature is asking: what are we doing here. Fante essentially skipped the murder part and went straight for the question. However, he did it in a way that was different from other writings. Not quite noir, but not quite not noir.
  3. Along those same lines, we began to talk about the people of this novel. Camilla, and Sammy, and Arturo. They don’t quite fit the picture of the classic noir characters. Someone mentioned that they were “the people noir forgot”. These people were like the people that history had sort of glazed over; not interesting enough to warrant a movie. Fante however pulled them out and wrote their characters, because in all honesty, these are the people that the majority of us could relate to. The things that happen to these characters happen to us. We don’t retaliate to armed murder with an automatic and a cigar while Danny Boy plays in the background; we question the people that love us and don’t know what we are going to become. Ask the Dust applies the noir question to the characters of reality.
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