Cultural Construct

The boundaries are all in place, it’s just about bypassing the strictures, and seeing what new modes develop…Do these claims of multiplicity stand alone? No. The fight is against one-track minds. Hearing a mono signal in this era is about the same as wearing a scarlet letter in another. Both are emblems of obsolescence, of socially enforced mores that damage everyone who agrees to them. (Kid 049)((Kid, Paul D. Miller aka Dj Spooky that Subliminal. Rhythm Science. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 2004. Print.))

The permeability of genre, like gender and other social constructs, can be seen by looking outside of historically-traditional American cultural constrictions. Hybrid literature is often seen as experimental within the context of the prevalent American poetics and even dismissed as unreadable and/or as a threat to a particular the very nature of poetry. While American literature includes some works that pushed against genre, such as Moby-Dick, as part of its canon, it is interesting to note that when first published, Moby-Dick was not well-received, but rather dismissed as “an ill-compounded mixture of romance and matter-of-fact…The style of his tale is in places disfigured by mad (rather than bad) English; and its catastrophe is hastily, weakly, and obscurely managed” (“Moby-Dick” n.p.)((“Moby-Dick; or, the Whale.” The Life and Works of Herman Melville. Web. 10 Aug. 2012.)).

Moby Dick had to overcome a certain resistance because it operated outside of generic expectations, whereas works in Japanese and Native American literature, for example, are more readily recognizable as ‘readable’ (referring back to Kim’s idea of the litmus for acceptance of a work into the archive) because their genres are more permeable to begin with. As mentioned in the genrequeer section, Japanese literature has a long history of works that combine genres, such as word + image, prose + verse, verse + image. It also has a history of collaborative work (Renga) as well as performance genres (Noh). Likewise, Native American storytelling crosses the boundaries of prose and verse within the same work without it being interpreted as a challenge to the Native American aesthetic because it is part of the aesthetic.

By looking outside of our own culture, the questions of authority and generic constrictions become more readily apparent. As Hume states, “Language isn’t binary, as we were taught. Culturally, we caught a computer disease, along with its insulting viruses, every bit as weird as hoof and mouth” (n.p)((Hume, Christine. “Some Capacities and Fallacies of Literary Hybridity: a Card Game.” Poets.Org The Academy of Poets. Web. 31 July 2012.)). This “disease” IS the notion of the binary, the idea that the borders between this and that are somehow inherent in the “this and that” themselves.

Works that persist on operating outside of the binary are a threat to the “socially enforced mores” not necessarily because of the content of the works themselves but because of what they resist by their very existence. This is a pattern of transgression and resistance  that functions similarly to the ways in which considering gender as fluid is seen as a threat to socially enforced mores surrounding “male” and “female.” Or that questioning the “natural law” of slavery was a threat in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries of American history. To echo Bibby, “delineating normative aesthetic boundaries, the poetic guarantees the perpetuation of ‘civilization’ and its values'” (136)((Bibby, Michael. “Insurgent Poetry and the Ideology of the Poetic.” Poetics/Politics: Radical Aesthetics for the Classroom. Ed. Amitava Kumar. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. 135–154. Print.)). By deviating from the normative, that guarantee is no longer upheld.

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