“I once wrote an essay titled ‘In the Night, In the Dark: A Note on the Appreciation of Weird Fiction.’ Toward the end of this piece, I asserted: ‘By definition the weird story is based on an enigma that can never be dispelled….’ Semantics aside, the important thing to me in a so-called weird tale is an impenetrable mystery that generates the actions and manifestations in a narrative.” – Thomas Ligotti
“[T]he image of a literary work as a piece of disputed territory over which two or more parties have battled . . . has seemed particularly valid. But even this metaphor suppresses reference to the changing, growing, living quality of such works.” – Michael Hanne
Readers employ many different terminologies to delineate and make sense of texts, from genre writ large (prose varietals, poetry, etc.) to fine distinctions of structure and meaning. Some readers prefer basic categories while others find more enjoyment in complex and detailed descriptions, depending on their intentions and agenda for reading. There are two sorts of distinction that are usually made immediately: real versus unreal, and what “boundaries” the given text lies within, borders upon, and/or crosses. Employing these distinctions make it, on the surface, easy to portray a text in a codified way, to quickly communicate to someone else the essential qualities of a book: its relationship to the real and its location in the conceptual terrain of narratives. Genre-mapping, both in terms of marketing categories and tropic indicators, defines form and content quickly and efficiently, if often incompletely.
I hear this in the bookstore frequently: when not asking for a specific title, a patron will ask for a book based on one of these two characteristics. “Where is your literature/non-fiction/poetry?” “Do you have a science fiction section?” “Are romances in their own area?” When looking for a specific book, patrons assume its location in the store based on these two notions. For example, Charlaine Harris’ books are looked for in SF, Horror, Romance, Mystery, Literature and, more recently, in Media (Television). Some patrons are actually surprised to find them in Horror. When I ask why, the consensus is that they are not “about” horror. They are about relationships, about suspense, about “real stuff” as one patron told me last week.