Daily Archives: June 3, 2011

Fluid Imaginalphabet: G is for Genre

Genre is, to my mind, the delineation of a boundary between and around literary works determined by the intellect’s instinct for perceiving integritas and consonantia, which I would do well to let James Joyce explain:

— In order to see that basket, said Stephen, your mind first of all separates the basket from the rest of the visible universe which is not the basket. The first phase of apprehension is the bounding line drawn about the object to be apprehended…selfbounded and selfcontained upon the immeasurable background of space or time which is not it. You apprehend it as one thing. You see it as one whole. You apprehend its wholeness. That is integritas.

— Then, said Stephen, you pass from point to point, led by its formal lines; you apprehend it as balanced part against part within its limits; you feel the rhythm of its structure… You apprehend it as complex, multiple, divisible, separable, made up of its parts, the results of its parts and their sum, harmonious. That is consonantia.

A genre is bounded, contained, and separated from the genres that are, indeed, not it; at the same time, a genre contains within it a harmony of multivariate works. The concept of genre is spatial, measured in terms of within or without, and it defines an existing dimension of any literary work.

The problem with the spatial definition of genre is that it is static; it neglects the genre’s dynamism. If the consonantia is harmony of multivariate works, dynamism is the way in which a new work figures into that song. With dynamism, the boundaries of a genre become expressions of the conceptual forces that emanate from individual works, and they are always subject to flux.

But how does one reshape the boundary lines? How does one write the work that moves the border of an existing genre? In short, how does a writer work within a genre at the same time as one goes beyond it?

Because it is only through the answer to this question that a writer will make her mark.