Is “literary” fiction just a product of clever marketing? Elizabeth Edmondson thinks it is. At The Guardian, she argues that classically literary authors like Jane Austen had no idea they were writing Literature — posterity classified their work as such later on. Her essay dovetails nicely with our own Edan Lepucki’s argument that literature is a genre.
High genre is fiction that allows you to investigate an individual text, because it is full of its own traits and merits, whether in its characterizations, its plot, or its prose. Regular genre, I suppose, is something you can only talk about as a family — tracing the themes shared collectively among its members. High genre will always be vulnerable to the taint of its lower peers, because it shares the equipment, the same beats. This is why people are drawn to True Detective, and yet can accept assertions that it is just another dead naked lady show. I mentioned the praxis of electronic dance music. Detractors would have it that this music is derivative noise, the artless patching together of beats at just the right frequency to make the ladies tear off their cardigans in the middle of the dance hall. These are the same kinds of things that people say about genre novels. But DJs (like medieval Islamic poets, in fact), demonstrate their mastery through use of the material of their peers and predecessors. You don’t always need to reinvent the wheel. You just need to be really good at spinning it.
When The New York Times tried to ask Jhumpa Lahiri what immigrant fiction inspired her, she smacked the question down by saying there is no such thing as immigrant fiction. “If certain books are to be termed immigrant fiction, what do we call the rest? Native fiction? Puritan fiction? This distinction doesn’t agree with me. Given the history of the United States, all American fiction could be classified as immigrant fiction.”
Do our brains determine how we write? Joyce Dyer explores the possibility that genre is influenced by how our brains are wired but wonders if that limits us. “The page may be forcing compromises that the brain, in such close relationship with the mind, must rightly refuse,” she writes.
“Walter Benjamin would have loved this guy Tom Knox. In our age of mechanical reproduction, for starters, Tom Knox is an immaculate work of artifice. He keeps cranking out books even though he doesn’t exist. Tom Knox, you see, is the pen name for Sean Thomas, a peripatetic British novelist, journalist, blogger, and travel writer. What’s more, The Babylon Rite, the fourth novel by ‘Tom Knox,’ works overtime to live up to Benjamin’s dictum that all great works of literature must either dissolve a genre or invent one.”
"Mixer publishing, with guest editor Paul Tremblay (author of Swallowing A Donkey’s Eye), is offering a $1,200 honorarium for the best speculative/sci-fi story, graphic narrative (comic), or poem.”
It’s a pretty simple standard, actually — all any story has to do is just show us the meaning of life.
Spurred by a sudden and quixotic interest in what constitutes genre, I developed my own little highly-nonscientific experiment. I went to the local library and checked out three books in each of seven genres. I didn’t worry too much about the academics – if the library called a book sci-fi or fantasy, I took their word for it. I dragged the twenty-one books home and devoted an entire rainy weekend to going through them, looking for tropes or devices that separated one genre from another.