Slicing Garlic and Mystery Genres
Was doing some reading on clavichords and harpsichords today (a friend is building a clavichord from a kit!). This led me to thinking about how finely humans can slice a subject (like that prison garlic in Scorsese’s Goodfellas) and name the smallest variations of a thing.
The practice of slicing, sorting and classifying things is called taxonomy. From the Greek taxis meaning order or arrangement and nomos, law or science. In mathematics it is also called a “containment hierarchy.” And that name might be the best in describing how people think about categories. Categories and sub-categories are useful in describing different types of butterflies or music or movies or novels. But the highly specialized categorization also tends to limit or contain people’s thinking. Sometimes the containment hierarchy becomes almost more important than the thing it’s attempting to describe
Take the mystery genre. While you can call a book a mystery and leave it at that, there’s a universe of mystery sub genres extending beyond that simple label. Common mystery genres are: cozy mystery, amateur sleuth, professional sleuth, police procedural, legal, medical, suspense, historical, private eye, noir, caper, whodunits, hard-boiled, etc. And that’s only the top level of sub genres — they go far deeper than that, with various permutations. It’s fascinating that we as a species have a absolute mania for containment hierarchies.
I’m currently working on a mystery series that is something of a hybrid of a historical and a private eye mystery. More on that soon.
Image courtesy Daniel E. Johnson