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January 3rd, 2007

The Genre Question

Tell me, what is the importance of genre?

I'm not talking about any debate that has been going on recently, no. Or any specific debate, really. Rather I'm interested in why it is that genre, any genre, is important? What gives these boundaries such importance that we would put them on books, divide up our bookstores, and pigeon hole our writers with them. Maybe it's just me, but that strikes me as a bit odd. Maybe it's just because it's late. Maybe not. I mean, is it just that genre provides the reader with a series of signs so that he or she is able to find the kind of material they want? Is it a marketing tool? Does it simply exist to provide the boundaries for a body of work? I'm taking all kinds of statements on it, because, truly, I want to know why it's important.

I'm currently working on a theory in my head that argues that genre definitions are, really, failing to properly reflect a lot of the literature being written today. No matter what definition you place upon a piece of writing (or film, or play, whatever, really), there's always a way in which that definition fails. A science fiction novel can be a romance novel, a thriller, a social satire--indeed, it could be all those things at the same time. It always could.

Genre could very well be simply an outdated concept and if so, then why does it remain important and, for some, necessary?