Genre has been occupying my mind, or more specifically, the absence and arbitrariness of genre, and binaries, and how they affect my writing life. I am taking a class on hybrid genres, reading texts which encompass several genres or defy categorization in many ways. Wordpress asked me when I moved my blog here to title it and then add a "tagline" --> a few words to describe what my blog is "about", and because I write in several/many categories, I said "Fiction. Poetry. Nonfiction." Not because I thought this was the best tagline, but because it was one, and anyway it served it's purpose in a curt way of saying everything and nothing. Writing is what the blog is "about". Today I deleted that, favoring no summary over a false one.
I have been married to these categories for so long. Classes, libraries, bookstores: all organized by genre. Works (texts) which cannot be classified become classified anyway, by publishers mostly and I guess therefore not writers? Anyway. I have been married to these categories for so long that my own bookshelves reflected them: anthologies, fiction, poetry, nonfiction (craft, philosophy, journalism, personal essays), literary magazines. Books for classes, books I should really annotate for my thesis now instead of later but won't, books I have not yet read. I don't know if anybody else does this in their own homes; maybe it's just me. I've always liked categories and organizing things. My mother used to pay me extra allowance for organizing toy shelves, drawers, baskets of markers, etc., because I was good at it. So I do this, I over-examine categories. Then, as a result of thinking about genre, I decided to disorganize or reorganize: all genres together, by last name of author. Which is arbitrary, but still. I could have done it by color or which ones I love most. It would have taken longer. I'm boring you. The point is that as of this morning all of my books are mixed together, poetry next to plays next to anthropology readers next to short story collections and novels. Doing this made me panic a little. Like if I took my pants and shirts and socks and mixed them all up inside of different drawers, which I would never do. But I am exposing my type-A components. I completed the project; the bookshelf is now mixed and Simone de Beauvoir appears to be sitting beside and listening to/talking to (do books listen?) Charles Baxter, which I quite like. The categories were getting hard to maintain in any case, and why insist on maintaining them if the books are already resisting?
This was perhaps motivated by an in-class conversation with author Bhanu Kapil, who mentioned to us that the person who can combine a facility for language with a faculty for telling stories (not at all an exact quote) is a special person, that such a thing is a gift not to be overlooked. The conversation was motivated by our reading of her book Humanimal, which was motivated by myriad thoughts and experiences, some of which may surface in her blog Was Jack Kerouac a Punjabi? , a blog I very much enjoy. She spoke of the intersections of text and bodies, certainly one of my obsessions (see: Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones, "write a list of your obsessions...Now you have things to write about".) , and of the interdisciplinary nature of writing, how other studies influence her work. I have only touched the surface of what I'm thinking about right now. Nevertheless, what I wanted to say is: the confusion of my bookshelves reflects a pleasant confusion in myself/my own writing currently. Something is shifting.
This post was originally published on my website at http://blgoss.com.