PHOTOGRAPHY: JOSHUA SY
Sweat the Technique:
Theses on Form & Genre
Introduction: Guest Blog Series on Craft (1)
Jason Magabo Perez
For the most part, I've been disciplined to squeeze my ideas into unfriendly forms and genres. I've been uneasy about my relationship to 'the law of genre.' I've been reluctant about making my writing legible for the wrong reader. What I've discovered in my work as a writer, performance artist, activist, scholar, and teacher, is that the greatest potentials of both genre and form lie in their utter failures, in their utter incapacities to capture fully our fiercest desires, passions and political sentiments. For every miniature and massive failure of form and genre there follows the imperative to experiment, to make possible, to act out with non-normative, perhaps queer tendencies.
Every semester, I confess to my students that although I may be positioned before them as an 'expert' in the conventions of critical and creative writing, I have consistently scored low on literacy/verbal and reading comprehension tests, received poor grades in literature and writing courses, and have felt inadequate at understanding and finding value in canonical works. Yes: English is my first written and spoken language. Yet still, English and my imagination remain at odds. I also work to convince my students that they have not in fact failed at writing in the English language. I confess to them and I confess to you now: It is the English language and its attendant forms and genres that perpetually fail and fail us. Through and through.
This blog series does not attempt to dismiss English, the Western aesthetic imaginary, genre or form wholesale. I'm not interested in dismissing or negating certain ways of writing and thinking. Leave that up to colonialism. This blog series simply presents a set of theses, of autobiographical reflections and meditations, of provocations and critiques that invite our communities and cultural workers to rigorously interrogate the politics of creative writing and art practice. Too often genre and form are used interchangeably. While it's not my primary objective to propose a rigid distinction between genre and form, I will explore the relationships between the capitalist logics of production and consumption and notions of genre and form. In his discussion of genre, the late French philosopher Jacques Derrida sets out to interrogate the argument that "genres are not to be mixed." In my discussion of genre here, I will mix and mix and remix. Part memoir, part autoethnography, part critical theory, part rant, part bashful manifesto, this series argues for a robust understanding of literature, one that attends to the ethical and political implications of our creative writing practices. In other words, this series sweats the hell out of technique and style, what some might call poetics, what some might call practice, what some might call aesthetics, what I sometimes call writing swagger. I intend to reckon with these often conflated terminologies. I intend to meditate and meditate toward either a fresher understanding of or a host of new questions about literary practice.
While I will reflect explicitly and implicitly on poetry, memoir, fiction, drama, performance, ethnography, history, film/new media, blogging, I am more interested in broadening the series toward a discussion of practice. What we do. How we do. How it is that we have come do what it is we claim to do. Perhaps this series is an epistemology of form and genre. As a VONA alumnus, a traumatized MFA, and an ethnic studies scholar, I center the problems of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, colonialism, and nationalism. Furthermore, I draw upon an interdisciplinary body of knowledge in order to broaden my interrogation. I will do my best to provide adequate context for the conversations I wish to incite.
Some topics I'm considering exploring: the notion of subjectivity and its relationship to form and genre; the question of audience; the power and limitations of fiction; contemporary ideas about creativity and art; the 'law of genre'; the discursive and epistemic violence of discipline; the 'racial mountain' for Filipino American artists; the predicament of English for Filipino and Filipino American writers; performance and performativity; experimentation and its discontents; and failure as a potential method. (Secretly, I hope that your comments/insights will throw me off course so we can have a more dynamic, unpredictable discussion.)
Ultimately, "Sweat the Technique" reinvigorates the discussion around the politics of form, genre and creative writing practice. I remain committed to the 'literary act' and thus, I often wonder: Can we in fact dismantle the master's house with our current set of literary tools? What is it that we actually do in/with our literature? What can our literature actually do? That is, what are the material effects of our writing?
1. Rakim [Allah], "Don't Sweat the Technique," in Don't Sweat the Technique, Erik B. & Rakim, © 1992 by MCA Records, Audiocassette.
2. SEE Audre Lorde, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," in Sister Outsider (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2007), 110-113.
3. SEE Jacques Derrida, "The Law of Genre," Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge (New York: Routledge, 1992), 181-252.
Jason Magabo Perez is a writer and performance artist. His writings have appeared in TAYO, Witness, and Mission at Tenth. Perez has been commissioned by Kularts and funded by an NEA Challenge America Grant, and he has performed at the La Jolla Playhouse, the National Asian American Theater Festival, and the International Conference of the Philippines. Currently, he lives in San Diego. www.jasonmagaboperez.com