I find this article fascinating while I am starting to find Derrida a little easier to understand and also a little annoying at the same time.

In typical Derridian fashion, Derrida looks at a word (concept, idea, whatever), and then he explores the common definitions and connotations of the thing, just to show the complications of those common ideas we have about the thing.

In this essay, I like this idea of deconstructing the idea of genre because this is a problem I am having in grad school now. I have always been something of a dilettante (and not a particularly bright or ambitious one). My interest range from Continental philosophy to Romantic literature to Modernist literature to Postmodern literature. I am equally happy reading Oscar Wilde as I am reading Chuck Palahniuk, only to put those books down and read Keats’s or Yeats’s poetry. But academia has divided all these up into little categories of which I have to chose one to “specialize” in. I am doing my best to become a “generalist” so that I can dabble in all my interest. I have never understood my colleagues assertions of “I’m an 18th-cneturist, I don’t like reading contemporary novels”– or vice versa– the “Modernist scholar” who doesn’t read Oscar Wilde. I do this because I like reading and philosophy, and I get to read both (somewhat).

Derrida here begins with the premise: “Genres are not to be mixed” (55). Derrida then goes on to interpret this. First, he says that this utterance could mean the he will not mix genres; then he goes on to say that another way of looking at the sentence is as a law. A “do” or “do not” of the utterance. And since I have much more reading to get to, I will keep this note on this essay short.

His point is that the idea of genre is one of “law.” Once we attach genre to writing, then we have set limits; Derrida says “As soon as the word ‘genre’ is sounded, as soon as it is heard, as soon as one attempts to conceive it, a limit is drawn. And when a limit is established, norms and interdictions are not far behind: ‘Do,’ ‘Don not’ says ‘genre.’ (56). This “law” that genre sets up brings with it the implication that there is something pure about genre that must be respected. That one can speak of “mixing genres” is implying that there must be something pure about genre categories: “…then this should confirm, since, after all, we are speaking of “mixing,” the essential purity of their [genres] identity” (57). If genre were not considered pure, then we would not bother with talking about mixing them. However, since mixing genres (frequently) happens, or rather, because we say it happens, then we are attaching some idea of purity to the word: genre.

Derrida goes on to analyze Maurice Blanchot’s story “La Folie du jour” [The Madness of the Day]. Derrida shows how this work defies any easy classification into any one genre and how the mixing of genre is always already working within the very word genre. There is no genre of genre, after all. Genre is always difficult to legitimize, even with history, genre defies historical classification. This is what genre tries to do– it classifies and organizes text into categories. That is to say, genre tries to naturalize text by classifying text even though there is nothing natural about genre. A genre means that we should be able to look at a text and identify and classify it through its common traits: “There should be a trait upon which one could rely in order to decide that a given textual event, a given “work,” corresponds to a given class” (63). Therefore, when a text is put into a genre, it closes itself off, but is still open. A text cannot be without a genre, but that does not mean that a text belongs to a genre. The participation of a text in a genre does not mean that it belongs to that genre.

By putting art into these genre categories, society implies that these categories are natural, with their distinct traits and codes which are followed to be put into the correct categories, but as everyone well knows, this is not the case; art transcends genres, mixes genres, and participates (though never really belongs to) genre. Genre implies a presence that is absent.