Refugees from the Past

James Meek

  • Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality by Fredric Jameson
    Verso, 87 pp, £12.99, July 2016, ISBN 978 1 78478 216 0

We think of immigration as a movement in space, from one country to another. In conventional terms, those who were born in the United States are American; those who were not are immigrants. They were born in another country, in another culture. They bring with them from their homeland certain habits and values, shared assumptions and common experiences – certain prejudices, perhaps. They face nativist hostility; a frequent bigotry is that they can be generalised about as if they were all the same. If they were born in the US to non-native parents, they are ‘second-generation immigrants’. They have lived an authentically American experience, yet they carry the memes of foreign culture learned on their mother’s knee, at their grandparents’ table on feast days, from the strange old books and ornaments brought from the old country. They know the words of old songs. It may even be that second-generation immigrants, feeling discriminated against, misunderstood and rejected by America, seek to immerse themselves in the culture and ideals of their parents’ homeland, fabricating a hybrid identity for themselves based on an acquired reality they have never actually lived through, debased, idealised and simplified from the original.

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[*] A seventh Marlowe novel, Playback, based on an unproduced screenplay, appeared in 1958. At the time of his death the following year from an alcohol-related illness, Chandler had written the first four chapters of an eighth, The Poodle Springs Story.