by Ray Davis
"Hithertofore the public has been offered literature only after it was no longer literature. Or so murdered and so discreetly bound in linens that those regarding it have seldom, if ever, been aware, or discovered, that that which they took for an original was indeed a reconstruction."Censorship does harm only if you intend to do something with your freedom. However, most of us, lacking a job which satisfies the natural human urge to enforce arbitrary rules, form a police state of one and expend immense energy on looking cool in our designer blinders. In fact, the opportunity to safely lay down the law even seems for some people to be the major attraction of art -- or at least of genre.
- Djuna Barnes, Foreword to Ryder
To the irritation of taxonomists and other amateur thought police, each genre is a loose bundle of:
Admittedly, I find such behavior perverse only because it conflicts with my own perversity. Pat Califia has written that she's queer for queerness; similarly, I'm queer for the eccentric and disturbing (but not "the transgressive", an adjective which currently marks just another reactionary genre), even for that which just befuddles.... Like any good perversion, mine feels integral and endlessly justifiable: Thurber and White define "love" as "that pleasant confusion which we know exists," and I could define "literature" in just those words for just the same reasons.
This doesn't mean I'm "against genre." As should be clear from the bill of materials above, genre is inescapable. Those foolish readers who believe they avoid it merely restrict themselves to relatively uninteresting genres such as "mainstream fiction" or "canonical masterpieces." No, as a marketing term, genre is unavoidable; as a spur to conversation, genre is useful to the writer; and as an easy pre-packaged assortment of reading methods, genre is useful to both writer and reader.
Genre remains useful only while one bears in mind that it's a bundle easily unbound and that a marketing category does not fully define a work of art. Just as one may in school be forced to apply mainstream fiction's rules of reading to works written far outside the genre of mainstream fiction, one may (outside of school, if you value your degree) approach Djuna Barnes as dark fantasy, or Robert Musil as hard science fiction, or Patricia Highsmith as gender outlawry, or Alexander Trocchi as high modernism. Such perversity is not without its satisfications, and we may profitably indulge from time to time.
But only with your permission, of course.