Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Borderline Anxiety (1)

Despite New Wave fantasies about reinsertition of science fiction into the so-called mainstream of literary fiction after the collapse of the Gernsbackian hegemony, or attempts by postmodernists to erase the hierarchy of high/low culture, the distinction between genre and mainstream is ineradicable. Science fiction, like crime, horror, or romance fiction, is distinguished by an internalised dialogue based on development and variation of unique tropes. This genre gestalt implies a border: an inside and an outside. Writers working inside a genre border must always be aware of their relationship with their chosen genre and with the mainstream outside the border. But mainstream writers are untroubled by this Janus-like duality unless they find it necessary to make use of genre tropes. Even then, if they are secure in their reputation, mainstream writers don’t need to excuse this borrowing. They might even admit an admiration for the genre to which they’re indebted. But because reputation is an important part of their self-worth, and because they’re hyperaware of status, most mainstream writers, like Jeanette Winterson (for instance), feel that they must deny that they writing science fiction when they are writing science fiction. They feel that they must neutralise the ant-pong of genre with disinfecting hyperbole. They must declare that they ‘hate science fiction.’ It’s ridiculous, of course. Hypocritical. But it usually works because journalists are usually too lazy to question it. When Jeanette Winterson declared to Liz Else and Eleanor Harris of the New Scientist that ‘I hate science fiction’, the two intrepid interviewers accepted it without demur. Would they have remained silent if Winterson had said ‘I hate scientists’, or ‘I hate Ian McEwan’?

6 Comments:

Anonymous Jay Russell said...

I share your point of view (no surprise there) but I am less annoyed by obnoxious pinheads like Winterson - who, recall, once threateningly knocked on critic's door in the wee hours - than, say, James Ellroy: a (brilliant) genre writer whose success has suckered him into some delusion of the 'mainstream'. Ellroy really wants to be Don DeLillo, but sadly for him that job is taken. My fondest wish for Ellroy is that Brett Ratner directs the adaptation of The Cold 6000.

September 05, 2007 11:10 PM  
Anonymous Peter Hollo said...

Yes, I was going to say that Jeanette Winterson wasn't particularly worthy of respect prior to this remark (although my dislike may be partially a reaction to all the people who adore her)...

Meanwhile, just to mention demure should be demur :)

September 06, 2007 12:10 AM  
Anonymous Paul McAuley said...

I'll shut up about Winterson from now on. Honest. Even though it was her casually stupid remark got me to thinking about genre boundaries. Crime fiction has its own ant pong, too, of course. Ellroy could never be DeLillo, but he could be James Mitchener - that spot recently opened I do harbour some small admiration for his ambition, tilting at the windmills of American history and attempting to subsume everything into one crazy conspiracy...

September 06, 2007 3:00 PM  
Anonymous Malcolm Edwards said...

I hate Jeanette Winterson.

Of course, I haven't actually read her books, so you could argue that I don't know what I'm talking about...

September 06, 2007 5:06 PM  
Anonymous Jay Russell said...

I admire Ellroy's ambition, too (and Black Dahlia remains one of my favourite books). Only problem is that he forgot how to write a readable sentence or tell an engaging story along the way. He is less like James Michener (or Don DeLillo) than Howard Hughes, wearing tissue boxes on his literary feet.

(Maybe we should all make a field trip to Winterson's shop in Spitalfields and bruise the fruit. That's not a euphemism for anything, by the way...)

September 06, 2007 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Pat Cadigan said...

I sent a Letter to the Editor of New Scientist that said, in its entirety:

Dear Jeannette Winterson:

Bite me.

Sincerely,

Pat Cadigan

I bet they won't print it, though.:)

September 10, 2007 8:19 PM  

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