British novelist China Miéville is a three-time winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, given annually to the best science-fiction novel published in the U.K. His books include The City & The City, Iron Council, and, most recently, Embassytown, and he has drawn comparison to such writers as Franz Kafka, George Orwell, and Phillip K. Dick. Miéville is also active in left-wing politics, has stood for the House of Commons for the Socialist Alliance, and published Between Equal Rights, a book on Marxism and international law.
On this recording from the final day of the 2012 seminar, Miéville sets out to explore genre, “the elephant in the room,” in a lecture which he says could be titled “in defense of pigeonholes.” The human mind is “a neurotically clucking connection maker,” says Miéville, “a taxonomic engine” that cannot help but divide art and literature into subdivisions. He argues that such separation into genre and sub-genre needn’t be seen as reductive, but rather ought to be embraced as a taxonomy that allows us to determine the ways in which one book stands in relation to another. Furthermore, says Miéville, quoting hip-hop artists Jay-Z and M.I.A., the distinction between genre fiction and so-called literary fiction can be reduced to a difference in “swagger,” or the way in which one presents oneself, one’s ideas, and one’s work. In a five-minute question-and-answer session at the end of the recording, Miéville talks about The City and the City and its indebtedness to crime and fantasy genres, his willingness to transgress the terms of genre, and the role of critics in creating genre distinctions.