In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Salingaros on Tschumi 2 | Main | Salingaros on Tschumi 3 »

April 17, 2004

The Importance of Genre

Dear Friedrich --

Wired magazine interviewed LOTR's director Peter Jackson. Here's a fun exchange:

Wired: Your early work features some of the bloodiest scenes ever filmed. What do these movies say about you?

Jackson: They all represent the type of film I would be entertained by. That's why you make movies. Because you're interested in a genre.

You can read the whole interview (most of which didn't interest me) here.



posted by Michael at April 17, 2004


"A category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form, or content: “his six String Quartets... the most important works in the genre since Beethoven's” (Time)."

Considering that, to list three favorites, "Winter Light", "Juliet of the Spirits", and "Lost in Translation" just three genre movies, the genre being high-art or art-house movies, I fail to understand your point.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on April 18, 2004 2:12 AM

Setting a trap for McManus, what else?

Actually, I agree with you thoroughly about genre, or at least what I've gathered are your thoughts about the topic of genre from some of your comments (although I think I'm more of a fan of "doing something with it" or "using it as a way to mess around with something else" than you are). When I posted the link it was late and I was tired and couldn't formulate any thoughts about genre. But I think the question of genre is an important one that isn't wrestled with often enough. What are they? What are their histories? How does "genre" differ from, say, story forms? (You might tell a "coming of age story" in a whole variety of different genres, for instance.) I sometimes find that people writing about the arts goof simply because they aren't familiar with the genre of a certain work -- they're judging it by the wrong standards.

Somehow (happy as ever to blame it on modernism) the notion of "genre" has become something people look down on: "Oh, that's a genre novel" has, bizarrely, become a putdown. Visual-arts people have lost track of what the various visual-arts genres are, let alone what their histories (and elements) are.

Which is strange for a number of reasons. Between you and me, I take genre (and artistic form generally) to be the DNA of the arts. It doesn't dictate final results, but it conditions it, and it's also what enables the activity to take place at all. Where people try to do without explicit artistic form, they wind up with de facto artistic form -- which is why "literary fiction," for instance, keeps tumbling into cliche and fashion. Forsaking explicit genres (generally speaking), they're stuck falling back on fashions and "inspiration" (which usually isn't there). And the result is a set of half-assed semi-genres, which turn out to be of little creative help to the artists. The magical-realist multicultural extravaganza (a la Salman Rushdie, for instance). Or the big vogue about ten years back for stories that built towards a revelation of incest -- dozens and dozens of lit stories and novels climaxed with a revelation of (snore) incest, usually used as a metaphor for (snore) the twisted heart of America.

Me, I much prefer explicit artistic forms. For one important thing, they're objective, so they're teachable and discussable. They enable artists to get projects on their feet a whole lot faster than the agonizing self-expressive thing does. And for people who like chatting and learning about the arts, taking account of genre gets you past the "I liked it" "well, I hated it" stage of the discussion. Far more interesting, IMHO, to consider a given work to be an example of a genre, and to think about what it's up to (and what the genre consists of) in those terms.

Anyway, I liked Jackson's statement because I think it's true for many creative people, and especially those who manage to be productive. They don't get into art simply because they gotta express themselves, they get into it because they fall in love with a genre and want to go do likewise. Genres are considered by many the high-and-mighty to be oppressive things -- "Oh, it's just a serial-killer thriller." I view them as enabling things. I loved Stendhal's novel "The Charterhouse of Parma" when I first read it as a college student, for example. But I didn't really have much to say about it until I read "The Count of Monte Cristo" and the lightbulb went off: Oh, "Charterhouse" is an example of the romantic-swashbuckler genre. Stendhal didn't make it all up; instead, he was doing his thing with a standard artistic form. Or, for all I know, maybe he was doing his best to simply write a good romantic-swashbuckler. But understanding that the book was an example of that genre, and learning a bit about what the genre consists of, was a great help.

I'd be interested to learn more about McManus' view of genre ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 18, 2004 11:46 PM

But you just said it all! :)

Not all that articulate about it. Not all that informed. Just consider it absolutely central to the arts I know anything about. Should be the training of a writer or novelist, if the "incest" writers had studied all the bildungsroman, they might written better books.

I always look for structure and tradition. Is "Lolita" a quest novel like "Huckleberry Finn" or an ironic bildungsroman.

I would contend that one measure of a genre piece is how well it conforms to the rules of the genre, which you get out of the average genre piece, not the exceptional or crossover. We seem to have lost something, when content aside, we could call a sonnet a success simply on the basis of whether it followed the rules well.

Technique and craft are what we live with; they are the daily bread of civilization.

"Monte Cristo" sold and still sells better than "Parma". I don't know what that means, exactly, but I am not so unhappy about it.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on April 19, 2004 12:08 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?