System Poetics: Genres, Autofiction, Theory fiction


Years ago when I was a filmmaker I would say to my partner that if we wanted to make narrative/fiction films (as opposed to documentaries) we should make genre films. In some ways I thought it would be easier to make a film within these constraints and that it would be easier to find an audience.

By genre I mean something like a western, a rom com, a horror movie. It is a hylomorphic story, where there is a clear distinction between the structure and content. Even “high concept” hollywood films – like searching for bobby fisher meets best in show, is hylomorphic. I am describing the bones of the film with out fleshing out the content. Genre films make it particularly easy to do this.

This is what Quentin Tarantino – he transforms genre films. You think you are watching a western, but the form and content are interdependent and the the form definitely does not follow the logic of the genre you thought you were watching.

My collaborator and I ended up not doing a genre film, but something super weird – probably because we did not think in genre formats and our desires and interests are to porous (read the previous post on boundaries).

But is a genre a system? Is narrative a system – like Aristotelean drama? I was telling my shrink a dream last week, and he said to me that Jung said dreams follow a 3 or 4 point story arc – similar to the idea of Aristotlean drama. That is a particular system.

Operas and plays that end in a marriage are comedies in death a tragedy. What about Beckett and Waiting for Godot. Is this a new genre? Is this transgenre? What is the system that this play is part of?

When I read Hanzi Freinacht The Listening Society, I was aware I was reading a hybrid work. This is not a traditional philosophical text or even social science text. Other hybrid works include autofiction like Crudo – which I love. Auto fiction is autobiographical fiction. I don’t believe this is a genre, unlike say magical realism which I do believe is a genre. There are tools to auto fiction, tropes and tactics. But it is like each author is playing a different chess game, using the same moves in different patterns.

Autofiction is about expressing the ineffable subjective inner life or experience of the author. This is not as a metaphor (which would be a story), or entertainment (also a story). It is meant as a cultural object in so far as a particular experience if it has enough resonance with enough individuals represents a universal experience, not through the creation of a universal experience that everyone can find expression within.

The question is what systems, or rather what system poetics do I use to express a subjective inner life that another person can understand and connect with?

This brings me to theory fiction. This is another genre or is it. The highpoint of theory fiction for me is Simon Sellars’ Applied Ballardianism. The most famous is probably Reza’s Cyclonopedia.
The most recent one I have read is Spinal Catastrophism, which I had on my last trip to Atlanta and thus it has accompanied me into quarantine.

So if autofiction is cross system attempt to express a story as a subjective experience, theory fiction is to express an idea (or ideas) as a narrative experience or in some cases subjective experience. How do we communicate thoughts? Where do thoughts come from? How do thoughts grow? Why do I want to hear your thoughts? Stories should not have philosophical bones to pick, when they do they are theory fiction.

Is this space between genres or hybrid genres the space of system poetics?
If we think about Hanzi again, and use his language of system, meta-system (maybe), paradigm, meta-paradigm, what do these fall?
The system would be the genre, either philosophical or narrative. It has a set of set rules, values, and aims.

Meta-systems would be auto fiction, or theory fiction. The goals and rules are myriad depending on the reader or the part of the text. The structure is combined from different systems.

On the paradigm level the rules across all modes of storytelling, argument, communication, exposition, creation, dissemination are teased out. I want to stick the realm of writing instead of devolving in to the Gesamtkunstwerk of Wagner, or some sort of narrative singularity where all creation is the same. But perhaps it would be something like Dale Pendell’s 3 volume set on plants that mixes science, biology, programming, history, poetry, lists, memories.

A meta-paradigmatic writing. What would it be like cross over multiple Dale Pendell-like books. Each would be different, and paradigmatic in their own way. Maybe writing that proceeds like a mind virus – writing that is performative – writing that while not transcending its format causes the reader to transcend. But this is just one option for a meta-paradigmatic. And then I might have gotten all these previous Hanzi analyasis incorrect.

But back to theory fiction – I see it now. I have xray vision in to a story. Like hearing the first bar of a song and knowing the name, I can watch a film or read a story and understand where it is going and what the plot it. It no longer unfolds in time but in one moment of illumination. And this is what it feels like to watch a genre film or story, to read a well made play (ibsen), and now theory fiction.

Theory fiction is way more fun than reading traditional theory like The Critique of Pure Reason, although I do find my mind clearer after puzzling for 2 hours over Hegel. But maybe this is a way to improve theory fiction, or maybe theory fiction is trying to do something different.

But as the apprehension of a work happens in an instance, rather than over time, we will search for higher and higher levels of system poetics where we too can experience the unfolding of the work in time.