Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mitchelmore on Genre

I left my last post a little incomplete. This is partly because, in the middle of writing it, I clicked over to This Space and saw that Steve has two new posts up about the problem of genre, making me realize I had more I wanted to say and the post had already become somewhat overlong. Steve blogs often about the ossification of the novel--how it's become a genre itself. When it first emerged, per Josipovici, "it became hugely popular [for its pretense to tell the truth], taking over as the dominant literary form. And no wonder. Here was an infinitely flexible vessel in which one could pour experience of the world." By now, though, the huge percentage of writers (talented writers) merely "fill the form", which is apparently ok by readers:
For many, the familiar comforts of genre give more pleasure than the truth at whatever cost, and they object to being labelled philistine or as lacking judgement. This occurred in Josipovici's lecture when he expressed astonishment at the ecstatic reception given to Irène Némirovsky Suite Française. At least three attendees thought it unfair to scorn a novel recovered from a literal holocaust. But Josipovici never said she was a lesser writer than the modernists to which she was compared, only that Némirovsky, like 99% of contemporary authors, were and are simply unaware of the inappropriateness of what they were and are doing. The air of authority they adopt - that given to them by the form - betrays the freedom given by the breakdown of genre.
More here and here. I'll return to this later.

(By the way, in reference to my "Satisfying" post below, Steve clarified something from his post on the Gabriel Josipovici talk. It was not Josipovici, but rather a member of the audience, who suggested John Updike as a writer aware of the kinds of problems Josipovici was talking about.)

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