Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

The genre experience

Still gnawing on yesterday's thoughts about genre-from-the-auctorial-side. There's an argument there about who "owns" the genre experience, and for me it seems to have broken thusly so far.

In conversation with karindira, I'd essayed the comparison of a writer employing genre tropes without any understanding of their history, meaning or context to that of a writer addressing the Black experience in America without actually knowing anything about African Americans. That's a bad comparison for several reasons. The obvious one is that it is heavily loaded with emotional freight that completely distracts from the argument either way. More to the point, as she objected, the Black experience is a real, tangible thing, with history and human beings tied up in it. Time travel is not.

I'm bothered by this push-back, though. The genre experience is real, albeit intangible. A better comparison might be a musician who seeks to address a specific tradition without actually understanding it first.

It's not that I think non-genre writers should stay out of genre. Far from it. We're all the richer for the books by Bakis, Faber and Niffenegger, which I cited in my pull quote. I liked all three of those books. What specficrider and I said was they could be oddly unsatisfying to a genre reader. That's a narrow statement of worldview. And it's quite literally true. I found myself reading The Time Traveler's Wife on two levels simultaneously. My inner genre writer/critic was looking at it one way, my emotional reader-self was looking at it another way, with two distinct reactions.

To go back to a charged example, this question of "who owns the experience" is mildy analogous to the "writing the other" problem we were discussing here a while back -- the challenge of being a majority writer addressing a unprivileged minority without being exploitative or disrespectful. For me, any writer is free to address anything that pleases them. The proof is in the text, all else is commentary.

But darn it, I want my genre to be intelligently executed.
Tags: process, writing

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