Under construction: trying to align some random thoughts regarding genre theory and how much difference and repetition we need in our lives.
“For the Italian aesthetician Benedetto Croce (1866-1952), an artistic work was always unique and there could be no artistic genres.” quotes Daniel Chandler in his excellent An Introduction to Genre Theory. I’ve always opposed this take on genre theory because I have a hard time with modernist concepts such as authenticity, the cult of originality, the great man theory and the resistance of things to be generalized. I like generalizations. I am a lumper, more than a splitter.
Last week however, I went through a small film experience that was analogous to blind wine tasting, which re-balanced my perception of genre theory. I saw the trailer to David Lynch’s new film INLAND EMPIRE without expecting it because I was in a mainstream cinema. As I thought to myself …. this is something special, I came to realize that this was Lynch. And it dawned on me that Lynch’s work does not belong to a genre but is unique or sui generis (of its own kind).
Other examples of genre-defying artists abound: take someone like mannerist painter Arcimboldo, reggae musician Lee Perry, novelist Céline, filmmaker Jacques Tati and most if not all eccentric artists.
Quotes sustaining the lumper view:
“It can be argued that all novels, no matter how “literary”, also fall within the bounds of one or more genres. Thus Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a romance; Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is a psychological thriller; and James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a coming-of-age story. These novels would usually be stocked in the general or possibly the classics section of a bookstore. Indeed, many works now regarded as literary classics were originally written as genre novels.”
Quotes sustaining the splitter view:
“There is no great work of art which does not convey a new message to humanity; there is no great artist who fails in this respect. This is the code of honor of all the great in art, and consequently in all great works of the great we will find that newness which never perishes, whether it be of Josquin des Pres, of Bach or Haydn, or of any other great master. Because: Art means New Art” — Arnold Schoenberg
So I’m thinking about this interplay between genre on the one hand and uniqueness on the other. Has David Lynch’s uniqueness inspired a new genre or will his style of filmmaking die with him? What can be said about the cinema of Lynch? Where does one draw the line between the history of art and the sociology of art? Is there any way to develop a genre theory which includes both strains?
I thought of the concepts used by Ken Wilber (derived from Koestler) holon and holarchy and the concepts used by Deleuze difference and repetition. Also, Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblance and the species problem, an analogy from biology ……………..