In this article I argue for a new understanding of the term hard-boiled by tracing the relationship between literary style and historical shifts in intellectual labor in the mid-twentieth-century United States. Novels representing the culture industry, such as Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister (1949), Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run? (1941), and Frederic Wakeman’s The Hucksters (1946), describe the intellectual labor of producing the commodities on which the industry subsisted, while at the same time struggling to identify and preserve regions of culture as yet unsullied by the market. This tension is crystallized in their distinctive hard-boiled style, understood here as a certain disposition toward the historical process of cultural commodification. Loosened from its genre frame and its associations with the mystery novel, hard-boiled emerges as a richer and more capacious critical term, one that can help us to understand our own work as literary historians.

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