The OF Blog: Something for people to consider

Friday, March 21, 2008

Something for people to consider

No thoughts on this tonight, as I'm about to crash, but here's an interesting excerpt from Jacques Derrida's "Law of Genre" that I think bears some consideration when we read debates about genre classifications:

The law is mad. The law is mad, is madness; but madness is not the predicate of law. There is no madness without the law; madness cannot be conceived before its relation to law. Madness is law, the law is madness. There is a general trait here: the madness of law mad for me, the silhouette of my daughter mad about me, her mother, etc. But La Folie du jour, An (accountless) Account?, carrying and miscarrying its titles, is not at all exemplary of this general trait. Not at all, not wholly. This is not an example of a general or generic whole. The whole, which begins by finishing and never finishes beginning apart from itself, the whole that stays at the edgeless boundary of itself, the whole greater and less than a whole and nothing, An Account? will not have been exemplary. Rather, with regard to the whole, it will have been wholly counter-exemplary.

The genre has always in all genres been able to play the role of order's principle: resemblance, analogy, identity and difference, taxonomic classification, organization and genealogical tree, order of reason, order of reasons, sense of sense, truth of truth, natural light and sense of history. Now, the test of An Account? brought to light the madness of genre. Madness has given birth to and thrown light on the genre in the most dazzling, most blinding sense of the word. And in the writing of An Account?, in literature, satrically practicing all genres, imbiding them but never allowing herself to be saturated with a catalog of genres, she, madness, has started spinning Peterson's genre-disc like a demented sun. And she does not only do so in literature, for in concealing the boundaries that sunder mode and genre, she has also inundated and divided the borders between literature and its others.

OK, one related thought (or more): Can order ever be "natural," or is it always an "artificial" imposition upon chaos (which itself is a debatable term, if one goes far enough)? Are the writings that we label as being of such-and-such genre(s) more reflections of pre-conceptions of the world, or are such writings active agents in creating such pre-conceptions of the world?

I think I better go to sleep now, before I write something too esoteric for discussion.


Anonymous said...

A pat answer of whether order can be natural I suppose could be found within chaos theory and its ilk. But personally, I think chaos and order are states that exist without us. I think the important thing is that humans categorise things. We categorise what is order, and what is chaos. It's easy to draw dichotomies between order and chaos, natural and artificial, but it has always concerned me that dichotomy produces artificial understanding that one is always exclusive of the other.

Yes, it's easy to look at it that way and attach a label, but the label isn't always accurate, nor is it necessarily applicable.

I personally think genre and the strict categories we put things into in order to place them within literature are silly. All we're doing in categorising, and sub categorising, and going back to revise the categories by appending new names to things that have existed for decades.

This is useful as someone in marketing selling to a reader who wants to read a certain type of book consistently. But for me, not so important. The genre doesn't concern me as much as the story.

Really, if you're looking at literature in general you have to look at it as a product of an individual, a culture, a cognitive process, etc. It doesn't appear in a void, and all these things and more feed into it. People will write a genre to sell, people also just write because they want to write.

And I am perhaps writing too much. But you are looking at post-structuralist theory (which views the signifier and signified as inseparable but not united), and that in and of itself can give you your answer... at least one answer of many ;)

Lsrry said...

Quite true, Sara, especially since I've been influenced by the poststructuralists for about 12 years now. I personally view Genre (and Literature, of course) as being merely a subset of material culture, best to be judged by the external and internal forces that produce such objects of (sometimes dubious) value.

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