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Genre is not land

by Arsh K.S 2 months ago in Humanity

prolegomenon to the constitution of a future subject

There is a marked tendency among publishing houses and journals to organize their narratives along spatial registers. There are indeed progressive tendencies in these movements - such as studies of nomadism, migrant labour, the so called new urban studies, which to me resemble the studies or urbanization of yesteryears, etc. however, there are also, marked feudal or should I say neo-feudal tendencies - often which are not merely agricultural.

Practices such as the ratings of journals and the evaluation of sources based on those ratings ensure that it is never the content of an article or piece in consideration but merely the location of its appearance. Such practices effectively ensure an inhibited ability to thematize as links become akin to an exchange, or as references to the real estate market rather than any sustained argument, narrative or practice. It is to be understood that there is an extent to which such ‘quality control’ measures may be required - however when they start inflecting the production of papers themselves, whether by being guided by professors, or other functionaries inside the house, or by third parties or rating agencies outside it - we have a situation where intellectual discipline is sacrificed at the altar of a desk and the place of an office.

What does this tendency serve? It may enable established organizations to keep references and ties between themselves - however, even here, it would degrade the quality of their academic output simply because it constricts the sources they draw from, which tend to become increasingly distant from non-institutional ties, which is always a danger in itself if considerations of live developments is an issue.

The title of this paper is ‘genre is not land’ - and there is a reason for this bluntness. Even among highly recognized establishments, and intellectual luminaries, there may be an argument made that a genre could be traced as an institution. Schools of thought, often draw on each other’s arguments and citation is a means commonly practiced among every major journal to recognize these debts. However, when a reference becomes a means of exchanging compliments at the expense of the target audience, or when the target audience itself which is aimed at is only further narrowing we have a situation where the appeal of a literature is obviously aging, if not dying out or becoming increasingly irrelevant to those who may use its propositions, arguments, narratives, and theorizations.

At some point, we have to confront the question, that before such instances of reification, whether fetishized or not: how does a genre itself come together from the disparate fragments, bits and scraps that may be scattered among feeder groups on WhatsApp, blog entries on the web, old newspaper clippings, journals, books etc. In other words, when does a literature become self conscious of itself as a cohesive body of thought? When can it recognize a common appeal among its threads of narrative? When are central arguments in this body identified? When do the people that it appeals to or invokes, recognize themselves in its call? These are the questions necessary for any given study of genre.

Let me briefly state, that I do not believe that such tendencies are endemic to any one genre, though I do see how certain practices may be common and shared among some more than others. There is also, I suppose, something resembling a natural history of a genre, a life cycle as it were, beginning with its genesis within certain historical conjunctures which make and privilege the potential of a kind of literature to emerge. The epistolary novel for instance, vanishes or becomes increasingly rarer with the diminishing of the practice of writing letters brought on by technologies like instant messaging. And, whether it realizes it or not, every genre is concretely aware of these limitations - and, yes, it is very often here itself, that the desire or need felt for another kind of organization of literature, around some other thematics, or objects of inquiry emerge. In this sense, the study of genre is unmistakably a historical process.

History however, as any good Marxist would know - is produced, every day, by us and others like us. And what remains at the end to be recognized as the dominant themes, or shall I use the updated vocabulary of today - trends, is principally determined by their representation in what are circulated as commodities. Hence, it is unlikely that notes I leave for my partner on the fridge are to ever be considered historical, no matter how urgent or pressing the information that they have to convey may be. And hence, genres do have to consider what their appeal is in a marketplace, and, as literary products, their relation to other genres.

We can see here, almost merely by placing the concept of genre within the field of the contemporary - that an autobiography for instance, no matter how remarkable, or how singular in its narrative, will, in the end, be placed alongside other autobiographies on the bookshelf at a store, or on a list on Amazon or Flipkart.

The consumption of such literatures, of course begins at the marketplace, when they are bought - yet in terms of their production, we are witness to a range of locations as diverse as the forms of human settlement that provide for even rudimentary literacy. If, hence, a question of its mode were to be raised, thinking the spatiality of writing would remain, however remarkable, an anthropological, or perhaps now - a photographic exercise. Were this form of production to be placed alongside other similar endeavors, it remains, especially for the private writer, who isn’t working in a newsroom, an example of a handicrafts industry; artisanal, enclosed, even in communion with others, within the ambit of something resembling a workshop. This, a spatiality of the production of writing, may be a more promising direction, for it may lead us to and reveal, forms of congregations that came together briefly in history to produce a statement of the present as they saw it.

This, constellational picture, as it were, of genre is really the only way to consider it as something other than the fruit which fell from the blessed garden, from whichever tree it may have been. And, as perhaps an archaic reader may recognize in the proverb, the danger in the study of genre, and I will take the liberty of stating any genre, is - to mistake the trees for the forest.

Having stated this, I confess that I do face up to the question of where this piece itself is to be placed, whether on a website, my blog, whether as a paper or as one among other essays in a book. Such considerations regarding place are those which I believe are proper to a writer, and the only ones which may approach anything resembling an ethnography, or perhaps better, a phenomenology of a craft. The other question, if it remains one - is what may the status of the word 'subject' be. This, in itself is not an altogether new question, as the history of metaphysics has animated these semblances, which animate us in some form or the other. Their coherence, in position, point of view, or even emotion while thematizeable, can do so - only under the absolute condition that they are named, perhaps the now idiotic refrain of an appeal to shareability.

I also admit, that while I have not read much literature on naming itself, the politics regarding the contestation between names, for a referent, among names to claims, are not altogether unfamiliar to me. However, what interests me, as a writer, as a scholar, as a Marxist, is when does the question of presenting a name arise with the force of a necessity? Here, is where, in the failure to do so - I account for a theory of trauma, or in other words, when the subject in question is not able to represent, even to themselves, the cause of their grief, hurt, or inability to cognize a situation, scenario or antagonism. The charting of these terms, are what I believe will determine the future and health of any genre which is to arise, in terms of how it self consciously sees itself, which is always, how those who write and read it, see themselves, through what it is that they do.


Arsh K.S

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