Sunday, 16 September 2007

Genre Ain't No Four Letter Word

For a while there, my two favourite authors were Grant Morrison and Ursula K. Le Guin. I've moved on for now but both authors still dominate a fair amount of my headpsace. They write comic books and science fiction/fantasy stories respectively, and like all good genre storytellers they use these popular forms for their own peculiar creative ends. I like this set up: genre forms have the same immediate appeal as pop music, an immediacy that comes from tradition as much as from the disruption of the same; when they are used by a good writer, these forms can be deployed and reconfigured to wonderful effect. Both Morrison and Le Guin have actually compared the process of writing genre stories to that of playing music; somewhat tellingly, Morrison used pop songwriting as his model (when interviewed for this book), while Le Guin talked about how fantastic fiction offered "a wonderful box of fixed metaphors you can play with endlessly, like a musician with a sonata."

Morrison is a pop showman. His best work is an almighty eruption of weird ideas, themes, characters and emotions. At his worst, he can be sloppy and indulgent, but I'll forgive that fault so long as the majority of his work continues to dazzle me and (hopefully) leave me feeling hyped up and frazzled at the end.

Le Guin, conversely, is a master craftswoman, building complicated worlds with bewildering ease, and asking the big questions within the context of genuinely compelling stories. At her worst, she can be a little dry, but as with Morrison, this is a small criticism in light of the personal and intellectual stimulation that her best work provokes.

I don't have time to get into this too deeply today, but the appeal these two authors hold for me is pretty key to a lot of my thinking on pop, art and life. More specifically, I think both Morrison and Le Guin represent a neat example of how it is possible to do good, exciting, even innovative work within pre-existing boundaries. Sometimes, it's good to rupture the firmament, yes. But sometimes, being able to make something amazing out of stuff that already exists is an even more important skill.

[This post is a little vague, but the outline it presents will re-emerge a few posts down the line so I thought I'd put it up here for future reference.]

No comments:

Blog Archive