Genre and matters “ism”

Sylvester G. Weatherface is one of my few very good friends. We met, roughly, about two years ago at a bar. This time frame may seem a little ‘off’ to the astute reader – especially given my current ontological anxieties – but my memory indicates that it is correct. But I digress. It was one of those strange nights out. You know, the kind where you just seem to attract weirdos and what I like to call ‘life trolls’. (A ‘life troll’ is that class of random stranger who sidles up to you while you’re having drink, is quite friendly at first, but then starts to insult you. One of the ways that you can spot a ‘life troll’ is by how they start to prefix sentences with ‘no offense, but …’ or suffix them with, ‘… no offense intended.’) Having had just about enough weirdness and ‘trolling’ for one night, I had perched myself in what I thought was a reasonably inaccessible corner of the bar. This is when Sylvester ‘sidled up’, ordered an unpronounceable drink, turned to me, and said cheerfully: “Hi there.” I thought: “Bugger.”But concerns over a new round of ‘life-trolling’ turned out to be misplaced; Sylvester and I hit it off like the proverbial ‘peas in a pod on fire’. At that time he was a writer, and like many writers of his generation, he explained, he was “both unemployed and unemployable.” I remember being struck by the feeling that Sylvester seemed to really enjoy the basic fact of his unemployed unemployability just a little too much. Times have changed, however, and Sylvester G. Weather face is no longer a writer, but something apparently much more grand. Yes, S. G. Weatherface is an Author, with a capital ‘A’.Possibly you are thinking, “so what Wingsmith? I don’t see how that has anything at all to do with the exchange rate of the Yen in Tanzania.” (I know you aren’t really thinking that, I just thought it sounded playfully quirky.) The reason I mention it, is that it is my understanding that Authors (capital ‘A’) are a type of creative thinker best known for holding up mirrors to the world. I am further given to understand, that they do this in order to reflect back the truth – or hidden versions of it. As I am in search of something like truth, I thought I should pay Sylvester a visit. Which I did, and am going to tell you about.

Sylvester, as is his want, likes to drink tea with his guests in decaying armchairs on his front porch. He likes this because decaying armchairs are the most comfortable of all chairs,  and because his porch overlooks a ramshackle garden with some very rare designer weeds in it. And so, in this environment, with a cup of very nice tea, I told Sylvester of my reason for coming to see him, and asked if he had any thoughts on things mirror or truth related. It turns out, he did … a lot of things … not all of which I understand, but am sure are very deep and reflective.

“Well, Wingsmith,” he began, “for me, the best way to approach these questions is through genre. The genre of an Author (bold capital ‘A’) should reflect their deepest and innermost being. It should speak powerfully to the reader of that Author’s orientation to the world, and the raw force of the ‘creative’s’ mind to penetrate deeply into the conditions of human life.

“My own genre is that of ‘whimsical silliness’, or, more properly, ‘whimsilism’. You will notice the use of ‘ism’ here.’Isms’ are very important to labels of genre, since they lend weight and authority; they reflect the need to take the words on the page seriously. Every ‘ism’ also signals various devices that one can expect to see in that genre. This gives the hidden truths reflected back from the ‘work’ its distinctive flavour, and thus makes them that much more truthful.”

“I see,” I said, not really seeing at all, “what are the particular devices of ‘whimsilism’?”

“I can’t go into them all at the moment – we haven’t the time for me to give you the full seminar I normally provide, for a small fee, to the interested public. I can, though, give you just a quick sketch, with an example.

“In brief, whimsilism involves the use of absurd and sometimes contradictory juxtapositions. This has the effect of unbalancing the reader to such an extent that a cognitive shift is produced that should, if successful, cause said reader to start seeing the world of the text in an ‘off kilter’ sort of way. An example from my own work is the use of ‘mixed spelling conventions’. I primarily write in English, so I mix both U.K. and U.S. conventions in ways that unsettle and annoy the audience – despite the fact that both forms of the language are intelligible to readers schooled in either of these two language formats. It has been my experience that this sort of thing puts everybody really out of sorts, and thus produces the correct ‘whimsilical cognitive shift’.

With that, Sylvester referred me to his autobiography, The Importance of Refracted Alone-ness: One Author’s Struggle to Find the Truth. (He assures me that much of his thoughts on genre and matters ‘ism’ are contained within the book’s covers, and kindly gave me a reduced price for its purchase.)

All in all it was a pleasant and interesting visit with Sylvester, and he has given me much to think about. This is why I have made myself a very nice cup of tea to aid me in my reflections while I stare out this window:



Wait … is … is that an Araçari?

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