Montevidayo Survey on Publishers and Genre: An Introduction

by on May.03, 2011

Recently I was checking out the Theresa Hak Kyung Cha archive on the Berkeley website when I came across this definition by the Berkeley librarians of the term ‘Intermedia’:

Use for the concept that certain 20th-century works merge already known art forms to inaugurate a new type. If the resulting art form gains currency and acquires a name, it becomes a new medium and is no longer intermedia. For works that employ several distinct art forms, such as sculpture and music, use “multimedia works.” To indicate that works are composed of a variety of materials, use “mixed media.”

What’s interesting about this quote is the expiration date on the term ‘intermedia’: “If the resulting art form gains currency and acquires a name, it becomes a new medium and is no longer intermedia.” For me, this definition can give us a way to think about the temporal nature of genre. Whatever else we might say of genre, we can say we know it when we see it. I think it’s time to put some emphasis on that when. Possibly genre is not inherent in a text, fixed and incarcerated as on a Grecian urn, but something in assemblage, a becoming-genre, a process. Possibly it’s a charge that runs from reader to text and back again.

You could read this idea back through Composition as Explanation by Stein. That’s the one where she talks about the continuous present, and she talks about ‘the time in literature and the time of literature’, and she also talks about how every generation is building a composition together, including the genius, and that the genius is not ahead of his time but of his time. So the genius is just helping to collaborate and build the composition of the present, only more so.

Yet Stein charmingly equivocates on this by presenting us with the quip, ‘every great artwork is an outlaw until it is a classic’. This suggest, yes, that the genre, media, status of a work changes with time, but also that it never enjoys a present tense. It is foreclosed from its own present tense, outlawed. Once it is visible as part of the composition of the present it’s dead (a classic).

This is a lot of paradox and contradiction which is ok with me. The idea that genre might be an assemblage, that many hands build it, that it’s not necessarily inherent in the text, that it is in flux and an index of temporality, really interested me. So I began to wonder: might genre be a collaborative process, rather than a set of fixed attributes inherent in the textual object? If so, who besides readers collaborates to make genre? Maybe publishers, authors, designers?

With that in mind I began circulating seven questions to various publishers and I will post the results here as they come in; I’ll also continue to send out the survey. I’m hoping that by all of us looking at the same thing at the same time we might be able to generate some interesting ideas about genre as assemblage, as contradiction, as collaboration, as flux, as unbounded.

7 comments for this entry:
  1. James Pate

    I very much like the idea of genre as an “assemblage, a becoming-genre.” It makes me think of both Godard and Almodovar. Both use genre-elements (crime, political thrillers, melodrama, etc.) to create a film experience that could not be achieved through either a “grecian urn” notion of genre, nor through realist means.

    In the essay I wrote about The Cow, I discussed how Reines uses genre to split up the voice, to make the book schizo in the extreme…a text that is beautifully inhuman. The opposite of texts that make us feel like we “know” the writer, like a living person is there. Genre-becoming can be used as a way of escaping the constraining humanist need for “voice.”

  2. Carina Finn

    I’m beginning to wonder if the becoming-genre is not itself a tense, a continuous-present suspended inside of a restricted temporality which is a becoming. then all of these various tenses, non-identical mimics, accrue and begin to look dangerous. they pile up & rupture time/tense and emerge as a sort of congealed present stepping into the future, an always-already anachronism?

    perhaps so many people insist on defining genre in singular, palatable terms because the contagion of multiplicity poses a threat to what James notes above as “the constraining humanist need for ‘voice.” “The Voice,” attached to a body which has a lifespan, can be easily made safe via an act of canonization, like J says — classics are dead.

    I wonder, then if one can take a sort of fossilized genre and bring it back into a state of becoming through decay, radioactivity. what’s the difference between reanimation and straight-up becoming? is a “dead” text with a potential multitude of voices really dead, or just sleeping?

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