Montevidayo Survey on Publishers & Genre: Specimen 4: The Dorothy Project

by on Jun.15, 2011

[I undertook this survey on Publishers & Genre to explore the idea that genre might not be inherent in the text but rather an assemblage of author, publisher, materials, readers, other texts. Our first featured press was Spork, followed by Fence. and Blue Square]

This week’s press is Dorothy, A Publishing Project. Answering our survey is the press’s founder, the talented, cool and awesome prose fiction writer, Danielle Dutton.

1)To what degree is your press a host for new genres? What new genres?

Dorothy might be old-fashioned when it comes to genre. Rather than new-genre or cross-genre or post-genre or inter-genre writing, we announce our intention to publish fiction. Well, here’s the line from the website: “Dorothy, a publishing project is dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.”

For lots of reasons—habits, history, etc.—I’m invested in fiction, in narrative, as a reader and a writer, invested in thinking about ways narrative can work. Our first two books are Renee Gladman’s EVENT FACTORY and Barbara Comyns’s WHO WAS CHANGED AND WHO WAS DEAD. The Comyns is recognizably “a novel,” if a peculiar one, whereas some (not me, actually) might think of Gladman’s novel as cross-genre, or what I’m calling “near fiction,” but the point is I want to look at this work and think through it as fiction. Why?

I’m not part of any conversations about poetry or poetics, but I am aware of and interested in some of them. A lurker. Meanwhile, I find that a number of people who write or talk about fiction from positions of power today seem not very interested in contemporary poetry. I think this is a problem for contemporary fiction, particularly when it means that writers who are doing adventurous work with narrative, such as Renee Gladman, get talked about regularly as poets and in terms of poetry because (I suppose) many fiction folks don’t know about them or don’t know what to do with them. Of course it’s fine for poetry to claim Renee Gladman, it’s great, but what I’m trying to get at is that I think it’s important for fiction, too, to claim her. So I find myself wanting to pull some of this in-between space closer together, not to water it down I hope, but to insist that contemporary fiction is more interesting than it sometimes seems to know itself to be.

So Dorothy isn’t about a new genre so much as it is about a distinctive conceptualization of an old one. Is that a new one? It’s about an appeal to the readership for a pre-existing genre to consider the flexibility of that genre’s terms. But genre is always amoeba-ish. Slipping. Morphing. Breaking off. It’s a situation. A rhetorical situatio. Surely it doesn’t have to be about homogenization, even if it often is about homogenization. But now I should move on to #2 . . .

2)What is genre? What is a genre?

I tend to think of genre less as a series of rules or norms and more like an always-occurring collection of strange outbursts in a completely interesting conversation between people like Gertrude Stein, Georges Perec, Virginia Woolf, Renee Gladman, Samuel Beckett, Lydia Davis, Cesar Aira, Bhanu Kapil, Patrik Ourednik, Marguerite Duras, Anne Carson, Lyn Hejinian, and on and on.

A genre is useful in as much as you want to make it useful to you. Genre has never felt restrictive to me. I locate a lot of possibility in genre-based questions: What is fiction? What does fiction mean? What should it do? How else might it behave?

3)To what extent has your own writing and art and your own understanding of genre changed by your work with the press?

Good question. It might be too soon for me to answer it. I’ve been running the press for just over a year, but I’ve been working on the same book (an essayistic-ish kinda historical novel that for a while I tried to also make a science fiction novel but didn’t manage to called A World Called the Blazing World) for about five. You’ve got me wondering now to what extent the book I’m finishing and its nebulous relationship to genre(s) has actually shaped the press . . .

4)What’s the relationships between genre and design? Between genre and medium (book, website, chapbook, performance, etc)?  Between genres and materials (recycled materials, pixels, voice, etc)?

Book design is what I’ve been doing, mostly, for the past four years at Dalkey Archive Press, so I’ll just quickly say that I don’t think genre has much to do with my thoughts about design. Much more important to me when I sit down to do a cover is the book’s general vibe, its tone, its particular wordy strangeness (or lack of strangeness), etc.

5) “If every one were not so indolent they would realise that beauty is beauty even when it is irritating and stimulating not only when it is accepted and classic.”—Gertrude Stein. Discuss.

It’s interesting she says “not only” there. I mean, she was ranting against the accepted and classic, the masterpiece, but it seems (and I’m noting this because I’d read the line before but hadn’t thought of it in quite this way) that in the midst of arguing for the beauty inherent in the new and irritating she is allowing that the accepted and classic can also be beautiful. Right? I mean, she’s not actually tossing away that notion of beauty, but arguing for an expansion (not simply an explosion) of what beauty can mean.

6) Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for sending these questions, Joyelle. They helped me think through some stuff. Also, I appreciate your idea of press as host, the verbness of that (action, yes!). I like to think about Dorothy as a kind of curatorial action, a putting-together of distinctive books that once together speak in new ways like paintings can interact on the walls of a gallery. Siglio, the press that put out my novel S P R A W L, has been doing some interesting work in this regard. When I look at all of their books together, the whole list, one book extends my thoughts about another, and this is something I hope Dorothy’s books can do. The Comyns and the Gladman aren’t an obvious fit, but I think they can be part of the same conversation and that’s a conversation about fiction that I really want to have.

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Phil Hopkins

    Yes, the machines of gender and language create strangeness. I am still processing the info from Joyelle’s survey. Like those Russian artists who produced a painting based on surveys of public taste, we should consider investing in polling on a grand scale as the next post-aesthetic. hmmmm….