Recently as I was idly browsing Wikipedia, a favorite downtime hobby of mine when I am not busy writing, I came across a reference to the little owl having a generic name based on the heathen Greek goddess Athena. I was struck, as I often am, by the different sense of generic here than usual, but with the same ultimate meaning. In biology, of course, kings play cards on fat green stools, as the mneumonic goes, for Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. There are superfamilies and subphylums to make matters more complicated, such as the subphylum for vertebrae in the phylum Chordata, but in general this pattern holds. In the biological sense, something that is generic is something that holds for an entire genus of life, for all humans or all horses or all skunks, for example, according to their various Latin names. All members of the canis family, are all dogs of some kind, and so something that is generic in a scientific sense would hold for all members of that genus, rather than being specific to the grey wolf or to the domesticated dog. Thus what can be said about broader groups must be more shallow given the individual distinctiveness that often applies.
Among the bands that I am fond of are the Gin Blossoms . This band faced a great deal of tragedy over the course of its career, largely because its initial lead songwriter had a difficult time dealing with the band’s charismatic lead singer, and had a draw to the bottle that led him eventually to commit suicide after being kicked out of the band because he was too drunk to record effectively, with the resulting guilt and anguish on the part of his surviving former bandmembers leading the band to temporarily break up, reunite under another name, and eventually return as a much lower profile band. Be that as it may, their excellent and melancholy power pop debut album “New Miserable Experience” includes a couple of songs that are considered generic, “Cajun Song” and “Cheatin’,” one of which is a generic Cajun song and the other of which is a generic country song where someone vainly claims to not be cheating on his partner because the girl reminded him of his partner. Yet just because a song is generic does not make it bad, a fact that can be difficult for others to understand sometimes.
After all, when it comes to genre reading, I am quite fond of it from time to time. Whether it is my appreciation for historical mysteries, like the Cadfael Chronicles  or the occasional western , I appreciate good genre fiction and do not complain that a given work is merely a genre piece, so long as it is written well. No doubt those who are even more fond of reading fiction than I am are even less critical of the conventions of their favorite literature, and may even like a given novelist like Louis L’Amour because of their appreciation of his writing within those comfortable conventions. There is nothing inherently wrong with conventions, and there is often a necessity of adopting some form of convention to communicate anything. Even works that pride themselves deliberately on being provocative and unconventional have to choose some form of basis or context by which they may be judged, even of those are unusual or unpleasant conventions (like atonal music, to give one example). What is referred to as unconventional is more a matter that the particular author or creator simply has a different convention than most others, not that there are no conventions whatsoever. Even Voltaire, after all, liked his servants and wife to be Christians even if he considered himself above faith because he valued integrity and decency in others even if he did not seek it in his own conduct. So it is with genres and conventions.
Therefore, if we are seeking to appropriately categorize a work, so that we might understand and appreciate it, it remains for us to understand issues of genre. If we misplace the genre of a given work, or if we do not understand what sort of person someone is, we will not judge others correctly. On the other hand, if we do understand something or someone correctly, we may simply not like it all the same. In that case, we will not hate something out of ignorance, but rather out of knowledge and deliberate dislike, because we know what it stands for. In general, though, a frequent amount of our difficulty comes because we do not properly understand where someone else is coming from, since most people do not go deliberately out of their way to offend others, and most of those people are sufficiently disagreeable on other grounds that understanding genre is not a difficult matter. Let us therefore pay attention to our own identity, live in such a way as is honorable and decent, and sincere, and seek to understand others, so that we may act appropriately towards them as best as possible.
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