Thanks for your helpful and welcoming responses. I’m using this blog a little bit as a way to generate some conversation topics of my own, and I’ll have time for it sometimes and not others, I’m sure. I do like participating on other people’s blogs, but there are sometimes things I want to say that would be out of place elsewhere. I’m not a fan of the people who seize blog comments boxes for their own agendas; if you have an agenda, start your own blog, and if that agenda’s interesting enough, people will probably read it.
Ann, obviously we could talk about how the fiction industry and media have been hung up lately on some very questionable distinctions between memoir and fiction, but that would only be saying what we already know. I do think that both fiction and memoir involve an important “truth test”; we read them partly for what they tell us about the world, the human imagination, etc, and when those things seem consciously falsified, that’s a problem. But deciding where the truth vs. falsity line lies is very tricky; the lie is clearly not in the conscious inventing, which all fiction and memoir does. Nor is the issue really “accurate depictions of the world” since so many inventions of the kind we would now call sci fi or fantasy or all sorts of avant garde and other non-realist literatures have incredible truth telling power. My fiction mixes things that happened with things that didn’t all the time., and I know yours does too. Finally, I’m trying to let my fiction or poetry “call it how I see it,” but that means very different things at different times. I’ll have to think again about it. I wonder where other people see a “truth test” in their own writing.
Small Fry, it’s funny to be in the position of teaching when, on one level, I help students make (tentative) distinctions about genre and then, on advanced levels, I show them all sorts of literature in which those distinctions break down. But like you, I think it’s probably fine, even if sometimes shocking for the students. I guess there are two types here of the pleasure (and the pain) of knowledge; the growth that comes from being able to make successful distinctions, and the growth that comes from realizing that a lot of it really is a house of cards.
FrankenS, what you say is definitely true. You and I usually talk about this in the context of rock and roll, which as you’ve made clear to me numerous times, is different in many ways from literature. Still, yes, genre can be one way of structuring a piece of music or writing–and I’m leaving aside, for now, how completely fuzzy words like “genre” and “form” and “structure” have become, although it’s an issue I’m hoping to return to soon. But I would say this: even the strictest sticklers for genre norms probably still imagine themselves as adding something new to those norms. If not, the artist runs quickly into nostalgic paint-by-numbers (your phrase, I think) copycatting. Funny though: we don’t, in literature, have revival cover artists, people literally doing all Frank O’Hara or Gertrude Stein like some bands do Presley or the Beatles. But I bet that’s just because there’s no money or literary prestige in it.