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Bookmark: On Genre Fiction

A Better Way to Think of the Genre Debate

It’s hard to talk in a clear-headed way about genre. Almost everyone can agree that, over the past few years, the rise of the young-adult genre has highlighted a big change in book culture. For reasons that aren’t fully explicable (Netflix? Tumblr? Kindles? Postmodernism?), it’s no longer taken for granted that important novels must be, in some sense, above, beyond, or “meta” about their genre. A process of genrefication is occurring. ...

The modernists saw, correctly, that novel-writing, once an art, had become an enterprise. More fundamentally, it had internalized a mass view of life—a view in which what matters are social facts rather than individual experiences. It had become affiliated with manufactured culture, with the crowd, and with the sentimentality and repetitive stylization that crowds, in their quest for a common identity, often crave. In reaction, they created a different kind of literature: one centered on inwardness, privacy, and incommunicability. The new books were about individuals, and they needed to be interpreted individually. Instead of being public resources, novels would be private sanctuaries. Instead of being social, they would be spiritual.

Something of that spiritual aura still hovers around our sense of what it means to read and write “literary fiction.” And there are some ways in which the modernist critique of mass literature is just as trenchant today as it was back then. (The modernists never got to see “fandom”; if they had, I doubt they’d be pleased.)


I feel as though I should be grudgingly pleased that the freaking New Yorker acknowledges the existence of fandom--and yet, it's also this offhand dismissal of an entire MEDIUM (I'd argue that fandom is a medium, not a genre itself) of work that is produced by women and esp. queer women is so. freaking. telling.

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