Tag: genre

The Great Ephemeral Skin: Kara Walker, Matthew Barney, Laura Mullen

by on Nov.08, 2010

I’ve been fascinated with Lyotard’s notion of the Great Ephemeral Skin, developed in his book Libidinal Economy, which imagines a libidinous body as a kind of Moebius skin, which has not got two side, but only one, and therefore neither exterior nor interior. Yet this Great Ephemeral Skin hosts a radical contiguity which not only lays interior and exterior out in a continuous surface but also mashes together all other categories—

“[…] the immense membrane of the libidinal ‘body’ […] is made from the most heterogeneous textures, bone, epithelium, sheets to write on, charged atmospheres, swords, glass cases, peoples, grasses, canvases to paint. All these zones are joined end to end in a band which has no back to it, a Moebius band which interests us not because it is closed, but because it is one-sided.”

I find this figure immensely interesting and Lyotard’s vertiginous way of writing about it, which contains many dizzy(-ing) lists, even more so. Amazingly, I find this figure popping back in to my head when I consider any number of artists and writers whose work configures a radical contiguity like this—Kara Walker, for one, whose lateral panoramics force the viewer to mime reading, black on white, to encounter body after body pressed into a syntax of violence, in which not only are hierarchies of master and slave continually broken down, flipped and recycled, but also hierarchies of person and object, weapon and body, before and after, cause and effect. All are flattened out and reworked by this reading, which, as one critic has observed, establishes no vanishing point, and therefore no prescribed point of view or critical distance.

(continue reading…)

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Problems After Genre

by on Aug.03, 2010

So we all think we don’t want genre, we want to be anti-genre or perhaps hybrid, but since these are genres too, let us think about what it means to really go genreless. To go genreless in our contemporary publishing environment is to make a work without a ‘document map’, without a diagram, without a blueprint. Without a sales category. A work such as this has no overview or topography. It can’t be nicely summarized. It cannot be publicized, because it lacks ‘publicity’. In place of publicity it has secrecy, distortion, obscurity, waste. It is a waste product.

Going genreless of course has no place in conventional or traditional publishing, but it is also outside the formalist rubric under which most ‘experimental’ prose is published. The diagrammability of formalist writing is what gives experimental writing its scientistic “rigor”. To go genreless is to go without rigor, needless to say. Except rigor mortis. Many of the synonyms by which experimentalism calls itself manage to keep the movement above the waste, in the ordorless interstices of the mind. Even ‘hybridity’ now carries a conscience-clearing green and lefty corporate-scientistic orderly taste, not promoting “pollution” or “contamination”, as the term hybridity might imply, but honorably promising to prevent it.

Everyone wants a genre, if only (and especially) a new-fangled one. Genre is a kind of team. You can go to bat for your genre. You can certainly bunt for your genre.

To exist in the swoon, to be shapeless, genreless, to eat the placenta, to get shit in your eyebrows … now you are really in trouble. To get a ISBN number, your publisher must check off your genre. To go genreless means you can’t be sold. To be placed in the Library of Congress catalog you must similarly fulfill a genre. To be genreless means you can’t be entered into the record. To apply for a berth at the AWP conference, you must check off to which genre your talk pertains. To go genreless means you cannot speak. To apply for a job you must establish your competency at genre. To go genreless is to expose incompetency.

But what is genreless writing, or what could it be? The most easily envisioned is a heap of genred writing, a writing that is so excessively or multiply genred that it is simply “out of whack” with itself. That is to say, it is whack, like crack, as Whitney Houston informs us. And as she further held, if she were a drug addict, where are the receipts? When one’s book does not balance with oneself, the receipts are missing. One is a kind of addict. Solipsism and dilation replace the wellmade form. Disgrace, degeneration, decadence. Yet to diagnose this problem is to apply terms from accounting: such a book is unbalanced. It cannot make an account. It does not earn its payoff—or worse, has no payoff. It wastes time, or it wastes the audience’s time.

When a single work is infested with genre to the point that it is genreless, it may not be able to bear itself. It may commit suicide several times but it always wakes up and finds that it still exists to its disgust and dismay, and everyone else’s.

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