A Private Letter from Genre to Literature
I saw you tonight. You were walking with your cabal from the university to the little bar across the street where the professors and graduate students fraternize. You were in the dark, plain clothes that you think of as elegant. I have always thought they made you look pale. I was at the newsstand. I think that you saw me, but pretended not to. I want to say it didn't sting.
Please, please, darling let us stop this. This artificial separation between us is painful, it is undignified, and it fools no one. In company, we sneer at each other and make those cold, cutting remarks. And why? You laugh at me for telling the same stories again and again. I call you boring and joyless. Is it wrong, my dear, that I hope the cruel things I say of you cut as deeply as the ones you say of me?
Our friends nod as they offer condolences and sympathetic condemnation. How many times have I heard voices that meant to be kind saying that you have descended into sophistication for sophistication's sake? And, love, would you believe that I deny them? I point to Harper Lee and Robertson Davies. The Picture of Dorian Gray and the dirty jokes in Shakespeare. I tell them how good Pride and Prejudice is, and The Name of the Wind and The Life of Pi. They smile. Worse, they smirk. I defend you to my defenders, and they see right through me.
But allow me this, dear: what you do is crueler. You take the best of me, my most glorious moments - Ursula LeGuin and Dashiell Hammet, Mary Shelly and Philip Dick - and you claim them for your own. You say that they "transcend genre". There are no more heartless words than those. You disarm me. You know, I think, that if we were to compare our projects honestly -- my best to yours, my mediocrities to yours, our failures lumped together -- this division between us would vanish, and so you skim away my cream and mock me for being only milk.
I forgive you. I weep and I resent and I say how little I care what your opinions are. And, let me be honest, dear, I take comfort in the fact that I make more money than you. That my audience is larger. Outside the narrow halls of the academy, my star is brighter. I go to the movies, and I am on every marquee. A television is practically my mirror. My house is larger and warmer, and the people there laugh and weep more loudly. Not all of them are sophisticates. Many of them find comfort and solace in things you consider beneath you. But they are my people, and I love them as they love me.
So I forgive you and I long for you. I do. The beauty and depth and sophistication that you aspire to, I aspire to as well. You lay claim to a deep love of language, but I have Kelly Link and Carole Emshwiller. You say that your work plumbs the depths of the human experience, but I have Maureen McHugh. You are concerned with the deep questions of religion and philosophy. So is Gene Wolfe. Look at them, my dear, but not too closely. I don't want to lose them to you, and each of them is good enough to be "literature." The things you want, I want too.
What do our friends make of our assignations, do you think? Those nights when you come to me and we find ourselves in each other's arms must seem comic to them, given how much we rail against each other in the day. And don't tell me that no one knows. Cormac McCarthy took the Pulitzer for a post-apocalyptic horror novel. Junot Díaz won his joking about Gorilla Grod and describing violence in terms of hit points. Wuthering Heights is as much romance as ghost story. Roth's War on America was alternate history. Ishiguro wrote Remains of the Day and also Never Let Me Go. Faber wrote Under the Skin. Whitehead, Zone One. Don't let's start on Atwood. Everyone can see that you want me as much as I want you. And more than that. I have begun to suspect you need me, my dear.
I read through the collections of your most honored short stories, and what do I see? Fantasy, mystery, ghost stories, romance. How often you refresh yourself at my springs. I wonder whether your contempt might hide something deeper. Fear perhaps, that you might be less without me as I am less without you. Are you vulnerable, love? You can be. I will not turn you away.
I am sometimes loud. I am often gaudy. I am sentimental, and I embarrass you in public. I apologize for none of it. You are respected, sophisticated, more passionate than I give you credit for, and sometimes even wise. I would no more ask you to become me than I would suffer remaking myself in your image, but we belong together. The proof of it is in the thrill you take from me and the comfort I draw from you. And so let us end this. Let us stand by one another as we should have all along. Let us take pleasure in each other. Where could the harm possibly be? Whose good opinion could we lose, and why should they matter?
Come to me, my love. Come tome tonight. I will meet you at midnight in the garden outside my bedroom. I will wear those bright, lurid, exciting things that are my signature. You bring those pretentions that are your best and worst aspect, and - can I hope? - the willingness to shed them.
via SF Signal