A Man Must Do What He Must:
Hammett's Pragmatism

by Josef Hoffmann

Translated from the German by Johanna da Rocha Abreu

"Few persons care to study logic, because everybody conceives himself to be proficient enough in the art of reasoning already. But I observe that this satisfaction is limited to one's own ratiocination, and does not extend to that of other men."
-- from "The Fixation of Belief" by Charles S. Peirce
Popular Science Monthly 12 (November 1877).

There are two ways philosophy works its way into an author's work: through the author's absorption of a philosophy and through the author's own thinking. If the author is a philosophical thinker and expresses the same or similar thoughts representative of a certain philosophy, he will come to express that philosophy in his work. But with Hammett both hold true. He absorbed the pragmatism and thought himself in a similar vein.

Hammett, a pragmatist? Wasn't he a Marxist? Hammett avowed himself to Marxism repeatedly and was a member of the communist party. But Lillian Hellman describes how Hammett became politically radicalized only in the mid to late 1930s, when communism became chic in Hollywood. For Hammett, the newly attained political conviction was more than just fashion - it defined his later life. But much can be said for him not being a Marxist before 1935 - the time he was writing crime stories. In publisher Alfred A. Knopf's promotion forThe Thin Man (1934), Hammett, we are told, "reads everything but detective stories. His favorite book is Spengler's Untergang des Abendlandes," hardly a work of Marxism.

Some assumed that Hammett's stories and novels were shaped by a Marxist worldview because of their radical and socially critical stance. The war depicted in Red Harvest and other stories, which pit everyone against everyone is a war of survivaland not a class war, reminding Hammett expert Steven Marcus more of Thomas Hobbes than Marx. Hammett's literary depiction of American society and the violence, greed and dishonesty of people could also have been influenced by his reading of Shakespeare. The most important experience, however, didn't stem from books, but rather from his job as a Pinkerton-Agent. Hammett explained his success as an author as a result of being a detective and having written about detectives. In particular, the details of well-known Continental Op stories touched upon events which Hammett either experienced or learned about from other detectives.

Hammett's experience as a private detective taught him to adopt a philosophy of pragmatism. In some regards pragmatism fit in with the company policy of a detective agency such as Pinkerton. The behavioral code of Pinkerton detectives that was instilled in Hammett wasn't geared towards the high ideals of justice etc., but rather towards finishing the job well and protecting yourself. His tendency towards pragmatism may have induced Hammett to give his protagonist in the famous Flitcraft Parable in The Maltese Falcon the name of Charles Peirce, an allusion to the founder of pragmatism: Charles S. Peirce, and in fact the Flitcraft-Parable owes much to essential aspects of Peirce's thoughts. Not only here, but also in other texts of Hammett's do traces of a reception of pragmatism become apparent.

That Hammett was capable of reading and understanding publications by Peirce is a given. And although I haven't found any evidence in biographical accounts on Hammett, Hammett's entire reading practice speaks in favor of it. In his lifetime, Hammett was an eclectic, interested, endowed with a good memory, all-round reader. By the age of thirteen he had already read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and maintained a preference for such books throughout his life. David Goldway, teacher at the Jefferson School for Social Science where Hammett was hired in the 1940s to teach "mystery writing", recalled that Hammett had a sound theoretical understanding although he denied it.

In the 1920s Hammett read, among others, books on criminology and math. It would be remarkable then if, in his readings, he didn't stumble across the works of Charles S. Peirce on logic or William James on psychology. He even drafted an unpublished philosophical paper, "The Boundaries of Science and Philosophy," where he discussed how the empirical proof of science was necessary so that philosophy would not lose itself in empty generalizations, and how science needed the theoretical refinement of philosophy to defend itself from falling into endless nominalism.

In other words, neither science nor philosophy can define and restrict itself. Both are dependent on one another. Sean McCann alludes to most of Hammett's arguments at the beginning of the 1920s as being common knowledge in the intellectual discourse. They bring to mind more a view of pragmatism than a Marxist position. In Hammett's novel The Dain Curse (1929) the writer Fitzstephan in a pronouncement on the state of psychology criticizes the "Behaviorists". The James student John B. Watson, however, essentially founded behaviorism. In spite of grave differences, behaviorism demonstrably built itself on the investigations of pragmatism. Aside from that, it should be stated that pragmatism in the first two decades of the 20th century, at least in the US, was the leading philosophical current. In 1923, Morris R. Cohen issued a collection of Peirce essays, Chance, Love, and Logic, with a bibliography of his published works and an essay from John Dewey. So texts by Peirce were certainly accessible for any interested reader, including the primary essays for pragmatism, The Fixation of Belief from 1877 and How to Make our Ideas Clear from 1878. In the introduction to a 1998 reprint, Kenneth Laine Ketner assumes, with an eye on the Flitcraft Parable, that Hammett read Chance, Love, and Logic.

Possible evidence that Hammett had read The Fixation of Belief can also be found in The Dain Curse when the Continental Op says to Gabrielle Collinson, who has just been taken in by a cult::

"Nobody thinks clearly, no matter what they pretend. Thinking's a dizzy business, a matter of catching as many of those foggy glimpses as you can and fitting them together the best you can. That's why people hang on so tight to their beliefs and opinions; because, compared to the haphazard way in which they arrived at, even the goofiest opinion seems wonderfully clear, sane, and self-evident. And if you let it get away from you, then you've got to dive back into that foggy muddle to wangle yourself out another to take its place.”

Hammett's text presents a version of the "belief-doubt-belief" theory from the The Fixation of Belief; it hones dramatically in on the individual. Peirce writes at the beginning of his essay: "We come to the full possession of our power of drawing inferences the last of all our faculties, for it is not so much a natural gift as a long and difficult art."

Later he emphasizes:

"... that conceptions which are really products of logical reflections, without being readily seen to be so, mingle with our ordinary thoughts, and are frequently the causes of great confusion." So much for the difficulty of clear thinking. Let's go now to the "belief-doubt-belief" theory: "Our beliefs guide our desires and shape our actions. ... Doubt is an uneasy and dissatisfied state from which we struggle to free ourselves and pass into the state of belief; while the latter is a calm and satisfactory state which we do not wish to avoid, or to change to a belief in anything else. On the contrary, we cling tenaciously, not merely to believing, but to believing just what we do believe. ... The irritation of doubt is the only immediate motive for the struggle to attain belief. ... With the doubt, therefore, the struggle begins, and with the cessation of doubt it ends. Hence, the sole object of inquiry is the settlement of opinion. We may fancy that this is not enough for us, and that we seek not merely an opinion, but a true opinion. But put this fancy to the test, and it proves groundless; for as soon as a firm belief is reached we are entirely satisfied, whether the belief be false or true.“

Peirce addresses four methods how someone arrives at a conviction and consolidates it.

  • The first method is one of tenacity. Afterwards a person gets used to repeatedly answering a question with a certain answer and refuses anything irritating, even just paying the smallest attention.
  • The second is the authority method, through which an institution (state, religious body) lays down and bolsters teachings through the deployment of instruments of power. Peirce sees this method everywhere in workings where there is priesthood. Hammett depicts an especially tricky example of this method: the way the temple of the Holy Grail functions in The Dain Curse.
  • The third method is the a priori, for which the history of metaphysics offers the most complete example. According to which a conviction is adopted, because it seems most suited to reason.
  • The fourth method is, according to Peirce's opinion, the only acceptable one; it is the science method. It leads to the result that "opinions…coincide with fact." Hammett preferred the scientific method, which according to Peirce's view every man applies to many things. The Continental Op says about the investigative methods of Fitzstephan: "You've got a flighty mind. That's no good in this business. You don't catch murderers by amusing yourself with interesting thoughts. You've got to sit down to all the facts you can get and turn them over and over till they click." The scientific method requires, however, more than an adherence to the facts. They require according to Peirce and other pragmatist logic and experimentation.

The significance of logic for Peirce's thinking is already clarified in the first part of Chance, Love, and Logic, entitled "Chance and Logic (Illustrations of the Logic of Science)" and shapes his entire work. Peirce knows three forms of conclusions: Deduction, Induction, and Abduction. The deduction is the offshoot of a result from a general rule and case, in other words premises. In contrast the induction infers the general rule from the case and the result; it deals with an empirical examination of prognoses, which are constructed on the basis of hypotheses. The original contribution by Peirce is the conclusions of the abduction, a guess construction of a hypothesis. From an invented, probationary introduced general rule and the in need of clarification fact (consequence), which creates the cause for reflection, it is concluded that the fact (i.e. the occurrence) is a case of the (assumed probationary) rule. The act of the abduction which is carried out largely unconsciously and playfully, requires the intuition, creative idea, a kind of guessing instinct or, as the Continental Op puts it, "goes click". The abduction plays a role not just in the research process, but also in the day-to-day perception. The perception of reality underlies a process of interpretation of signs, a continuous building of hypotheses. Every thinking articulated perception is pervaded by abduction.

Abduction and deduction don't suffice for a scientific solution of a riddle; the hypothesis arrived at and the connecting prognoses require an experimental verification, the induction. The experiment, the practical probation in the experience, is for Peirce and other pragmatists an indispensable approach in researching reality. In the so-called birth certificate of pragmatism: "How to Make Our Ideas Clear", Peirce writes:

"Thus, we come down to what is tangible and practical, as the root of every real distinction of thought, no matter how subtle it may be," which he illustrates with the example of the "hardness" with a scratch test of diamonds and comments: "The whole conception of this quality (to be hard - J. Hoffmann), as of every other, lies in its conceived effects.“

Hammett and his detective figures appreciate the logic as well as the experiment. The story of how Hammett as a Pinkerton detective recovered a stolen Ferris wheel is well known. He searched all the fairs in the region where a Ferris wheel could be until he found one where the owner couldn't prove his ownership. For Hammett this was pure logic. A thief couldn't have stolen something so big for his backyard. So, he had to be at some other fair.

Hammett's protagonists also rely on the power of logical conclusions in order to solve a case. For example, Sam Spade in "A Man Called Spade" reconstructed the crime primarily through a series of logical conclusions and explains, " Understand, I'm just putting together what the evidence says, and what we got out of his wife, and the not much that we got out of him.“ The Continental Op draws attention to the policeman Kelly ("the logical suspect") in "Death on Pine Street", in that he draws logical conclusions from a variety of witness statements. According to William F. Nolan, the Continental Op Stories follow strict rules, like a chess game. Hammett's stories, in spite of all their innovation, in spite of the enrichment of social realism and action, stand clearly in the tradition of the detective story solving a puzzle. To the detective's repertoire in Hammett's stories belong the abduction, namely the guess reading of leads and the intelligent idea, exactly as it was in the cases with Sherlock Holmes.

But frequently this is not enough; experimental action is also necessary. In this scene from Red Harvest, the Op explains his methods to Dinah Brand :

"The closest I've got to an idea is to dig up any and all the dirty work I can that might implicate others, and run it out…"

"Is that what you were up to when you uncooked the fight?"

"That was only an experiment - just to see what would happen.“"

"So that's the way you scientific detectives work," is Dinah's response.Sam Spade later describes his methodology as heaving "a wild and unpredictable monkey-wrench into the machinery." Such behaviour doesn't correspond to the layout and progression of scientific experiments, but they clarify that Hammett's detectives don't content themselves with reality- free thought acrobatics, but rather with the clarification of a case and the tracking down of a criminal. Value lies on the tentative handling and its consequences. This resembles the pragmatists.

The private detective in Hammett's stories behaves pragmatically towards the truth and its investigation. William James in particular worked out a pragmatic conception of truth. The provocative question on the "cash-value" of truth comes from him. "Cash-Value" conducts and limits the Continental Op's search for truth. These are especially palpable in the different stages of the clarification work presented in The Dain Curse, each which are triggered by payment from a new contract to investigation. At the end of the second part of the case Fitzstephan says to Op: "But if, as you say, you aren't satisfied that you've learned the whole truth of the affair, I should think you --" To which Op responds that it has nothing to do with him, and the client terminated the business connection.

Admittedly, the truth concept with James is not established as so commercial. But there are other similarities between the relationship to truth with James and in the detective stories of Hammett. James stresses the usefulness of the truth. Hammett delivers a cynical version of this stance in the conclusion of the The Maltese Falcon. When Sam Spade exposes his lover Brigid O'Shaughnessy as murderer and hands her over to the police, he argues neither with the necessity of clarification of the truth or with just punishment. Instead he counts off seven reasons why for him, particularly as private detective, it is more convenient to hand her over to the law. Nick Charles in The Thin Man"also has a pragmatic relationship to the truth. At the end of his novel Nick tells his wife Nora how the story of crime must have played out according to the facts at hand and why the lawyer Macaulay will be found guilty:

Nick asks Nora: " Now are you satisfied with what we've got on him?“

"Yes, in a way. There seems to be enough of it, but it's not very neat.“

"It's neat enough to send him to the chair“, responds Nick, " and that's all that counts. It takes care of all the angles and I can't think of any other theory that would.“

"Have it your own way“, she says, "but I always thought detectives waited until they had every little detail fixed in -“ And then wonder why the suspect's had time to get to the farthest country that has no extradition treaty.“

Now it corresponds to a typical false interpretation of the pragmatic truth concept to reduce it to the practical or just material benefits. The pragmatic truth concept is oriented towards considerably more complex and more intellectual uses. Well-known is the statement by James: "The true, to put it very briefly, is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as the right is only the expedient in the way of our behaving.“ The orientation is effected by the result, ultimately by the probation in the verification process, which can underlay mistakes.

An example for a related understanding of truth is found in Hammett's story, "A Man Called Spade." A policeman found the necktie of the murdered man in a garbage pail. It reveals three small, irregular stains. Spade assumes blood, the police detective objects that it could be dirt. They compromise and agree that for the progress of the investigation it's better to assume blood and to confront the suspect with this "fact". Thus they succeed in capturing the criminal, and it does turn out that it really was his blood. The detective assumed something to be true, which brought them further on the path of thinking and confirmed itself in the verification process.

William James is convinced that we all have to take a jump into darkness in all of life's important performances. He characterizes with this a stance, which also marks Hammett's detective figures. Private detectives hope that from time to time the help of chance comes. Allan Pinkerton even spoke of "Detective Chance". Hammett was familiar with the chance factor from this detective work and his passion for gambling games. And certainly chance plays a dominant roll in the Flitcraft-Parable.

In the parable, Sam Spade relates his search for a missing Tacoma man named Charles Flitcraft several years previously. He finally found him five years later after his disappearance, living as Charles Peirce in Spokane. There he assumed similar living habits to those he had in Tacoma. Confronted, Flitcraft tells Spade his story: When he went to lunch, a beam fell from the eighth or tenth floor, streaked very closely by him and slammed on the sidewalk. He got a shock.

"He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works. ... He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them. ... What disturbed him was the discovery that in sensibly ordering his affairs he had got out of step, and not into step, with life. ... Life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away.

For two years he moved around and finally settled down in Spokane. But there he fell into the same old patterns that he had so abruptly left in Tacoma. As Spade put it "He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.“

In the end the tendency of people to adapt to certain life circumstances and shape the behavioural habits outweighs chance, so emphatically may chance decide life.

This thinking obviously resembles the thoughts of Charles S. Peirce in Chance, Love, and Logic. Peirce relates, however, his teachings less to the individual life of man but rather to nature in total. On one side he assumes a moment of spontaneity or absolute chance in nature, on the other side he stresses the tendency in nature to shape behavioural habits. For Peirce this is not an unsolvable contradiction, but rather both elements belong to evolution: In biology, the idea of arbitrary sporting is First, heredity is Second, the process whereby the accidental characters become fixed is Third. Chance is First, Law is Second, the tendency to take habits is Third.“

At another point he sums up:"I make use of chance chiefly to make room for a principle of generalization, or tendency to form habits, which I hold has produced all regularities.“ The shaping of behavioural habits as well as breaking out from them is decisively influenced through the adaptation of organisms on their environment. This adaptation process underlies also the convictions of people at the general approach to the truth. Even logical thinking, which is turned towards practical things, could have sprung from the process of natural selection. The process of evolution adds up with Peirce to a development of concrete reason and even universal love, a relatively, ideal view of the world, which Hammett probably remained a stranger to. While with Peirce and the other pragmatists a tendency for love, good, and optimism dominated, Hammett's pragmatism is colored by "noir": chance and behaviour habits make place for violence, passions and conflicts as supporting elements of life.

This is especially apparent in Hammett's novel The Glass Key (1931). The hero of the story, Ned Beaumont, is not a private detective but rather investigates a murder case on his own out of loyalty to his friend Paul Madvig and his family, as well as out of antipathy towards Senator Henry. As such Beaumont does not underlay the pragmatic necessities that the profession of the detective involves. Nonetheless, the same evidence of pragmatism is present in The Glass Key. Just as Charles S. Peirce attempts in " Man's Glassy Essence" to illuminate the physical nature of man, Hammett tries in The Glass Key to give insight into the social nature of people, by portaying the way political power, money, social standing and feelings (friendship, love, antipathy) are woven together.

The word "glass" is to be understood metaphorically. Neither in Peirce does human nature exist out of glass, nor in the reality of the novel does a glass key exist. The statuette of the Maltese falcon is revealed, in that novel's conclusion, to be at best illusory; in John Huston's film it's actually referred to as "the stuff of which dreams are made of,."

"The glass key" is also a dream object, "Glass" implying both transparency as well as fragility. In Janet's dream, related to her father, the Senator, she and Ned Beaumont got lost in the woods and come across a house through whose barred window a richly set table is seen. Under the doormat she finds a glass key. It breaks just as she open the door, because the door is stuck and she had to use force. She sees on the floor of the house hundreds of swarming snakes, which come out and attack her.

The dream leaves itself open to Freudian interpretation. The house means woman, mother. The food in the house is the motherly love and sexuality. The keyhole to the house represents the vagina, the key the phallus. The snakes are the no longer controllable sexual drive of the intruders and the fears of being overtaken by this drive. But what speaks against this dream interpretation is that it's an Oedipal, masculine dream. Also keep in mind that the dream takes a heightened place in the aesthetic construction of the novel, consequently to understand out of the aesthetic context. In the course of the novel, Beaumont infiltrates the social strata of the city, where at the center stands an unsolved murder of Janet's brother. Beaumont doesn't do this as a cool observer, but rather as an intruder, who puts himself into existential danger. Janet helps him with his investigations during which she eventually leaves her house, as her father, the Senator, is the murderer. The dream story creates a mix of the "Hansel and Gretel" fairy tale, the biblical story of the fall from grace through eating from the tree of knowledge and William James's example of the house in the forest as a picture for usefulness in the search for truth. The house in the dream is the place of awareness and experience. But awareness and experience have a price, the loss of innocence of the unknowing/inexperienced: the door to the house does not let itself be closed again. The key breaks, the process to awareness, or the experience of doing and suffering, is irreversible as a process of change; it can't be undone or restored, in order to hold off unwanted awareness or knowledge. A dangerous knowledge can result out of awareness, experience, and its publication under the circumstances of uncontrollable consequences can lead to consequences for the enlightened. This is symbolized by the snakes, which attack the both intruders. In Hammett's dream story an existential an active-oriented stance towards search for truth glimmers, as is appropriate for pragmatism.

Another influence of pragmatism in The Glass Key shows itself in the critical view of practicing social Darwinism. As Peirce wrote:

"The Origin of Species of Darwin merely extends the politico-economical views of progress to the entire realm of animal and vegetable life. ... As Darwin puts it on his title-page, it is the struggle for existence; and he should have added for his motto: Every individual for himself, and the Devil take the hind-most! ... On the other side, the conviction of the nineteenth century is that progress takes place by virtue of every individual's striving for himself with all his might and trampling his neighbor under foot whenever he gets a chance to do so. This may accurately be called the Gospel of Greed.“

Hammett placed such a gospel of greed in the Red Harvest; but also in the city in The Glass Key, where a merciless, political, and economic fight rampages between competitors. Paul Madvig, the boss of the camp of political power is shamelessly tricked and used by Senator Henry and his daughter. As Beaumont tells Janet, " I tried to tell him (Paul Madvig) you both considered him a lower form of animal life and fair game for any kind of treatment. I tried to tell him your father was a man all his life used to winning without much trouble and that in a hole he'd either lose his head or turn wolf.“

Hammett doesn't write about class status and consciousness, although it would have required but a small step. Rather he debunks the prevailing theory of social Darwinism with an animal metaphor.

Peirce attaches a definitive meaning to thought and behaviour habits. He doesn't just refer to the individual but rather stresses the real existence of an esprit de corp, noting that "there should be something like personal consciousness in bodies of men who are in intimate and intensely sympathetic communion.“

The esprit de corps of such a collective personality can express itself simultaneously in crimes as well as virtuous dealings. While Peirce sees in the development of a mind of corporations a reason for hope, Hammett's stock-in-trade is the damaging influence people have on each other. No wonder his favorite word is "poison": the corrupt city in Red Harvest is named "Poisonvillle; " in The Glass Key Senator Henry and his daughter are "poison" for Paul Madvig and in The Dain Curse the Continental Op rejects the curse of family Dain as a reason for the confusion of Gabrielle Collinson, dismissing the curse as neither God-given nor as an effect of inheritance. He explains Gabrielle's thinking and behaviour as the bad influence of the step mother: " You got a hell of a start in life. You got into bad hands at the very beginning. Your step-mother was plain poison, and did her best to ruin you, and in the end succeeded in convincing you that you were smeared with a very special family curse.“

The badness of the world doesn't spring from a secret power, but rather results from thoughts, habits, passions, and interests of certain people. Other people can successfully go against this if they have at their back a good functioning, incorrupt organization, such as the Continental Agency of Op.

However the fight seems never to stop. Such thoughts aren't far from those of a pragmatist like Dewey,particularly in his understanding of democracy, which starts with a comprehensive process of upbringing to overcome the historical inheritance burden of class differences. Hammett's view of politics and society, which is shaped by his experiences as a Pinkerton agent with crime, the underbelly of society, meanwhile, portrays itself as somewhat more pessimistic, dreary, and bitter.

It is repeatedly raised in the literature on Hammett that the detective hero is through and through tough, free from expressions of feelings and relies only on a cool reason; their pragmatism is characterised as cynical. But it could be argued that in Hammett's novels the heroes clearly are guided by feelings. In Red Harvest the Continental Op takes on the task of cleaning the city of crime and corruption with a half-criminal engagement, which goes well beyond the paid contract; this engagement may be connected with the desire for intrigue and violence, but could also be attributed to a disgust for crime and corruption. Dinah Brand and Gabrielle Collinson prove that Op has a reserve of empathy, which allows him to form a relationship of trust to women, if one-sided. Ned Beaumont's approach is largely explained due only to friendship with Paul Madvig and his daughter, paired with an antipathy for Senator Henry, as a so-called aristocrat of society, and a unmistakable feeling for justice.

But the importance of feelings is not foreign to pragmatism. Peirce praises "the natural judgements of the sensible heart" and places them together with the French Revolution and future social revolutionary upheavals. Emotion certainly doesn't stop at logic. The hypothetical conclusion, an abduction, is accompanied by a specific emotional movement; the hypothosis generates the "sensuous element of thought", the induction the habitual, while the deduction is the "volitional element" of thinking. The logic with Peirce is based on Ethic, on the social impulse of people. A critical reflective social impulse Hammett describes in his detective stories.

Dashiell Hammett's mindset as a writer, therefore, seems clear: his view of the function of literature corresponds to the views of pragmatism. According to Peirce artists have a particular ability to perceive reality unadulterated, without the filter of general interpretations. The work of the artists arises in a form of reproduction of what he sees or hears, what in art is a highly complicated matter. Dewey's stipulations for literature and art go further. Because portraying is a thing of art, it is their job to pass on investigation results; news in the manner of a presentation; to break through a routine consciousness. The effect of literature is decisive.

What, then, is Hammett's view? He commented on work as a writer in a speech at the Third Writers Congress in June 1937. According to him the job of a contemporary writer is to take parts of a life and to order them on paper. The more direct the path from the street to paper the more real life it will come out. The writer must make what he writes down appear believably contemporary, the things must call up this impression that they happen here and today. The reader should have the feeling of being right in the middle of it all. Therefore, the writer must know how things happen, not how one remembers them later, and in this way he must write them down. Hammett chose the crime story as a form of communication and aesthetic expression, a popular genre thought up for its exciting drama and effect on the reader. He published his texts at first in Black Mask and other magazines, which reached a mass public. Hammett was a pragmatic writer in all areas of his production.

In the fragment Tulip Hammett describes a writer who like himself hadn't written for years. He has him pronounce some ideas about writing and sees the problem in the right organization of materials. James Naremore comments: "In the long view, and given the particular historical context of Hammett's work, this emphasis on the problem of form has important political implications. It suggests that Hammett had become philosophical about the relation between language and ideology.”

My theory contrasts in that Hammett's position on language and writing was always philosophical. The difference between the earlier and later Hammett arises from the change in philosophy. Marxism replaced pragmatism. It may be that Hammett's support of Hellman's writing career, his writing for Hollywood and the many years of alcohol abuse added up to reasons for his writer's block. But the main reason is that the high demands of Marxism on literature couldn't be fulfilled. He didn't manage to revolutionize the novel and to perform his duty to the social revolution as a Marxist writer. Pragmatism gave him wings as an author, Marxism paralyzed him. His works are the fruits of his own pragmatism.



Lillian Hellman, Introduction, in: Dashiell Hammett, The Big Knockover and Other Stories, Harmondsworth 1984 (1969), 7-23;

Lillian Hellman, Scoundrel Time, Boston, Toronto, 1976;

Diane Johnson, The Life of Dashiell Hammett, London, 1985;

Richard Layman, Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett, N. Y., London, 1981;

Richard Layman (ed.), Discovering the Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade, San Francisco 2005 (including: The Boundaries of Science and Philosophy, by Hammett)

Steven Marcus, Introduction, in: Dashiell Hammett, The Continental Op, London 1984 (1977), 7-23;

Sean McCann, Gumshoe America, Durham, London 2000;

Joan Mellen, Hellman and Hammett, N. Y. 1996;

James Naremore, Dashiell Hammett and the Poetics of Hard-Boiled Detection, in: Essays on Detective Fiction, ed. by Bernard Benstock, London, Basingstoke 1983, 49-72;

William F. Nolan, Introduction, in: Dashiell Hammett, Nightmare Town: Stories, N. Y. 1999, vii-xvii

William F. Nolan, Hammett - A Life at the Edge, 1983, German edition, Frankfurt/M., Berlin, Wien, 1985;

Julian Symons, Bloody Murder, London, Basingstoke, 1992;


John Dewey, Democracy and Education, N. Y. 1955 (1916);

John Dewey, The public and its problems, Athens 1991 (1927);

Rainer Diaz-Bone/Klaus Schubert, William James zur Einführung, Hamburg 1996;

William James, Pragmatism, Cambridge, London, 1975;

William James, The Meaning of Truth, N. Y., 1968;

William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays, in: Popular Philosophy, Cambridge, London 1979;

Ludwig Nagl, Charles Sanders Peirce, Frankfurt/M., N. Y. 1992;

Ludwig Nagl, Pragmatismus, Frankfurt/M., N. Y. 1998;

Klaus Oehler, Charles Sanders Peirce, Munich 1993;

Charles Sanders Peirce, Chance, Love, and Logic: Philosophical Essays, ed. and introduced by Morris R. Cohen, with an essay by John Dewey (“The pragmatism of Peirce”) and a new introduction by Kenneth Laine Ketner, Lincoln, London 1998 (1923);

Charles Sanders Peirce, Lectures on pragmatism - Vorlesungen über Pragmatismus, Hamburg 1973 ;

Martin Suhr, John Dewey zur Einführung, Hamburg 1994.

Respectfully submitted by Josef Hoffmann, April 2009. The article was originally published in German, and later in English in the British crime magazine CADS in 2006. Mr. Hoffmann lives in Frankfurt.

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