Monday, January 12, 2009

Now We're Arguing About Genre

Blogger's Note: Again, comments from my publication management class.

Urgh. I’m having a lot harder time with this question than last week’s – partly because just about every conversation I’ve had concerning genre has always felt like opening the door to an empty room: There’s a lot of space to talk about but absolutely nothing to sit on.

Like Kat, I don’t know that defining genre is going to help me with my definition of what a publication is – particularly if we apply the supposition that “genre involves interaction with an audience (even if it is an audience of one),” as Prof. Hailey wrote in the “copyright” thread today.

I’m more readily convinced that some texts – as Prof. Hailey defines texts – are not publications, but whether or not they are publications depends on what the text is and how it might be used and interpreted, not what genre they might happen to be, unless we get to defining genres to such detail as “left-handed dentists without tonsils.”

Take notes, for example. Grocery lists, this-person-called reminders and such may be written down and used by a limited audience, but they’re not necessarily publications – we don’t remember them, nor do they have any audience utility beyond the initial need – reminding us what to buy at the grocery store or who called and wants a returned call.

Then there are notes that take on lives of their own and, years past, are recalled and – at least for my family – become part of the family folklore.

For example: My Dad once left us this note:

“We have gone to SLC. We will be back tonight. Maybe. Hope you have a good time without R. looking at you over the fence and V. looking at you under the fence.”

The humor of the note (it was accompanied by drawings Dad did of he (R.) and Mom (V.) peering at us from over and under a fence) I suppose could be classified in the genre of “notes bearing utility (location of the parents) and humor,” but with this kind of nit-picking, the use of defining a genre goes out the window because of the specificity. The genre of “notes” is too broad to be useful, as is the narrowed genre suggested here.

Then again, there was this note:

“Scouts 4 o’clock.”

In this form, the reason for this note to be part of family folklore (and thus a family publication) is not apparent. This note could be classified as a “reminder” and not be considered a publication, as with all reminder notes. But because this was a hand-written note in which the author (my brother) nearly closed the “u” in Scouts, the note appeared thus:

“Scoots 4 o’clock.”

We have, for years now, asked him if he ever made it to that Scoot meeting. So we have the sub-genre “notes with humorous typos” that spread past their intended audience of one to become a family inside joke, published now over several generations.

Then, if you want to argue further, are the “found poetry” possibilities with discarded grocery store lists. I have a small collection of these. Some grocery notes are just that – lists of things to buy at the store. But others, discarded at the store and thus reaching an unintended audience (me) transcend mundanity to become publications. My favorite:

Peanut butter
Onions (red)
The will to go on living
Cottage cheese

Yes, these are all mundane notes with that unusual little twist to them. Some notes are not publications. Some definitely are. Trying to define genre to determine what is a publication and what is not is truly in the eye of the beholder.

Again, on notes: One of my favorite Internet humor sites is the obscure “Wally World Life,’” which can be found at The site follows the day-to-day ramblings of a Wal-Mart associate, his weird co-workers, the weird customers and his own little weird tics. (Note: If you visit, be warned this guy swears some.) Each day is just a note, something he saw or observed or thought for the day. On an individual basis, the notes are not publications. But taken altogether, this guy has created one of the funniest observational publications on the Internet. So I’ll continue arguing that it’s context and meaning that make a publication a publication, not so much with genre.

But I can be convinced that genre helps define publication. I need examples, though, because, on my own, I’m having a hard time with this.

No comments: