[LMB] genres and Miles

Paula Lieberman paal at gis.net
Mon Jan 31 02:09:19 GMT 2011

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "John Lennard" <john.c.lennard at gmail.com>
To: <lois-bujold at lists.herald.co.uk>
Sent: Sunday, January 30, 2011 3:59 PM
Subject: [LMB] genres and Miles

> Interesting points, assortedly, and the categorisation of genres by
> attention to place, plot, and purpose works pretty well.
> Professionally speaking, though, as a teacher of literature, the really
> critical thing is to understand genre in a way that does not make genres
> mutually exclusive. So many people seem to imagine them as pigeonholes,
> little boxes into which works can be satisfactorily popped--and this leads
> to the exclusion of anything variant, as well as ripe confusions all 
> round.
> In truth, genres (and the literary use of the term is pretty recent--late
> C19) are dynamic and contingent, a shorthand names for sets of 
> expectations
> about what will happen in narratives, and those expectations can be

Huh?  Yes, mysteries have  mystery and romances have a romance, HOWEVER, 
fantasy and science fiction the genre is NOT about the plot, it is a about 
the -setting-!!!!  Horror is about a psychological impact, not plot outcome. 
Action-adventure is not about the plot, it is about there being 
excitement--the goal of the adventure may or may not be achieved.  For that 
matter, a mystery in which the mystery doesn't get solved may disappoint 
readers, but the focus still is on -mystery-, and romances with unhappy 
endings readers tend to feel -very- cheated, but there is still a 
romance--even though the readers tend to be very annoyed!

> fulfilled or defeated or played with or ignored ; and of course differing
> sets of expectations can be combined, and are, very frequently indeed.

Again, I disagree substantially with that, in that genre !== plot.  Genre to 
me is binning of a work of fiction accord to feel.... Laura Anne Gilman 
defined a work's genre as "that element, which if you take it away, there is 
no story."  _China Mountain Zhang_, a book which I found tedious and boring, 
was essentially a travelogue of a character drifting around, the "plot" 
consisted of the character drifting around from wherever to wherever and it 
failed to engage me--as oppposed to the people who thought it one of the 
best novels of the year.
> Which doesn't of course stop the assorted folks who insist on this or that
> restriction. In formal theory, the most recent real influence was probably
> Darko Suvin, who wanted to exclude from SF the irrational--no telepathic

Aarrrggghhh, don't wanna go reread Darko Suvin criticism, nonononononono!  I 
did that decades ago, it was offputting to me then, and I have less patience 

> dragons, no ghosts, no fairy-tale creatures &c.--and whose work is still
> cited by those engaging with the genre. To be fair he did have a very 
> useful
> phrase about cognitive estrangement--recognising a book's world as -not- 
> our
> world--but the anti-fantasy baggage that comes with it is a bore.
> Lois calls a genre a group of books in conversation with one another, 
> which
> is a lovely idea, and congruent with her refusal to separate SF and F the
> way that some theorists, some readers, and some publishers do. See her
> intro. to *Love and Rockets* for her most recent comments on genre (there
> was a free sample up, but it seems to have vanished).

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