Monday, January 01, 2007

Genre markers

Return visitors to my weblog will notice that each of the entries is now labeled according to the following categories: autobio., bio., chapbook, creative nonfiction, fiction, folk poetry, inquiry (cult.), inquiry (lit.), list, nota., open letter, personal letter, poetry (line-), poetry (prose), short story, sound experiment, and still photo.

True artists, perhaps the best artists, defy categorization. I, on the other hand, have given long contemplation to literary genre, mostly privately, and find that I do desire categorization, not only of my own writing but also of the types of writing -- especially the shorter forms of writing -- that there are: fruit, vegetable, herb, grass, tree.

Now that I have the mechanical ability to label items by genre and sub-genre based on my own determinations, I feel suddenly "forced" to examine the language I have used to refer to limited prose fiction and personal nonfiction. Some of the main terms are: genre, mixed-genre (hybrid genre, inter-genre), creative nonfiction, personal narrative, personal essay, auto-biography, memoir, creative writing, short story, short fiction, literary fiction, novel, novella, prose poetry, piece, entry, fragment, philosophical fiction (phi-fi), realism, surrealism, journal (diary) (notebook), letters (belle lettres) (open letter), notes (noting), design, style, gesture, attitude, structure, form, and voice.

"Short story," whether fictional or non-, is a form. Form means shape. It contains elements: plot, characters, setting, point-of-view, style, dialogue, conflict, and theme.

Short pieces (traces, fragments, entries) may be fictional or non- and not function or not yet function as a form.

How are essays arranged? What is an essay fragment? What is a personal essay fragment?

There is a conjunction between flash fiction and prose poem. Sometimes I call "fiction" friction.

Semi- or half-fiction is a blend, a percentage, estimable by the writer and sometimes by "characters," of what actually has taken place and what could have taken place. It begins to replace what in fact did take place. It is a semi-fictionalized account, the exact details inherent in point-of-view. The "character" assumes the life of a dramatic actor or model, similar to an artist's model, one who may or may not realize he or she is serving in that way.

"Creative nonfiction" is intensely cumbersome as the name of a literary genre, and yet it must be the best name for it so far. I am using "autobio." to mean that the factual basis in the work ought to be honored by the writer and the reader as true, real, or echt (authentic and factual) and "creative nonfiction" to mean the factual basis or sequence of life events -- not meaning "plot" in fiction -- matters less than the artistry or creative arrangements at play in the work. "Creative nonfiction" may advance mutable positions and boundaries.

"Autobio." refers to stories about my own life. "Inquiry" (polemic) refers to cultural commentary and to ways in which personal stories pertain to culture: economics, religion, education, healthcare, medicine, and feminism (old, new, post-, avant-). "Inquiry" includes definition, literary criticism, review, and self- and other-reflexive discourse on how literature is made.

I chose the word "inquiry" instead of other available words, such as "criticism" or "scholarship," if it is, and to echo Lyn Hejinian in her collection of essays called The Language of Inquiry. The opening essay in that volume is called "A Thought is the Bride of What Thinking." In her preface to the essay, she writes, "Prose is not a genre but a multitude of genres. [...]Intrinsic to the existence of boundless multitudes is the impossibility of comprehensiveness and therefore of comprehension." In the first of three passages included there, titled "Variations, a Return of Words," she writes, "Poetry shouldn't succumb to piety, even with regard to illogicality and nonsense." The Language of Inquiry includes 20 separate pieces and constitutes a re-issue of "A Thought is the Bride of What Thinking," first published as a chapbook in 1976. I see that she and I both think about clarinets and guitars.

I have hoped that my serious readers, and there are few of them, could guess properly at the grammar of my strategies. I have hoped my friends, the readers, could find reading it somehow gratifying.

In an article in The Guardian Robert McCrum writes that "literary fiction" as a designation, especially as put into practice in the United States, has outlived its happiest phase and is destined for decline (Sunday, August 5, 2001). Tough it is that these markers refer to literary mannerisms and mechanisms and not to what is non-literary, but they are also practical.

"Literary," as I might mean it, refers to creative or inventive styles in prose. These are non-market-based or non-commercial styles in creative writing, similar, taken by themselves, in their low profitability to poetry: Works that pretend or tend toward genius and high art as opposed to simpler, more entertainingly plotted works intended for a more general reading audience. McCrum argues that "literary fiction" has become its own market-based genre (like western or horror or mystery). McCrum points to creative writing programs and colonies for the answer: In the United States we are trained as creative writers and our biases dating back to school days are ingrained. Taste is the name for it, but it is a taste soon-inherited and not a cultivated, discerning form of it.

Taste hardwired into one when one is most aspiring as a writer, while one is living at a distance from family and early friends and while one is forgoing other livings, even writing as a living, is difficult to divest. It is hard for those writers, who less and less are readers, to adapt their skills or to admit to the circumscribed range of their interests. They are mostly all mannerists who conform to small new developments five to ten years after someone more innovative than they has invented a new or an original way -- in style or method -- then perhaps taken heat for it.

"Provincial miniaturist," McCrum suggests, is one meaning of what the "literary fiction" writer might really be, and, for my safety boat, I accept the gibe gladly. Unlike most artists who reject labeling, I seek it to make my work a little easier, my heart a little lighter, my path a little wiser. "Provincial miniaturist" describes me.

Approaches, styles, and forms in poetry are "open" and "closed." At innovative audiences Adam Fieled writes:

"Post-avant" is a tag I first heard used by Anne Waldman a few years ago. I think it fits the bill as well as anything else -- it's like saying "New New Poetry," being both "post-something" and involved with "avant" as well. In the UK, it's "innovative," though I believe "post-avant" has gained some ground there, too. Ultimately, I think that these kinds of tags are like government -- a necessary evil. They're reductive and don't do justice to real work, but we need shorthand when we want to talk about groups of poets or artists. "Experimental" and "innovative" both sound rather tame, so I suppose "post-avant" is the best "necessarily evil" tag we have right now.

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