On Classification and Characterization

Or something.

I’ve been out for drinks with my new co-workers–whimsically-themed cocktails are something I’m very much in favor of. for the record, especially the citrus-flavored variety–so we’ll see how coherent this ends up being.

See, I’ve been talking elseblog about TVTropes, and then sort of about personality tests, and the various ways one can define things. Definitions and labels, mind, do to some extent serve to limit understanding even as they aid it: so do words themselves, and even our senses. They’re like the little hand-and-footholds we carve in the glacial expanse of The Cosmos–which is a metaphor I really should have used in some college essay. And on the one hand, you can’t get too dependent on them: you hold onto the same little niches in the ice long enough, and the view will get really tiring, plus your hands will get exhausted and you’ll fall and die and be a discouraging story on the Discovery Channel.  On the other hand, you need those niches. Because you are not Spiderman.

Wow. Metaphors.

My point, insofar as I have one, is that I think “classification cannot fully describe everything and thus all classification is wrong” is…not the way to approach this. I take the opposite approach: no one system of classification can fully describe a person or a situation, largely, and thus you should play around with every system you can. I’m an INTJ, a 4 or a 7 on the enneagram (I think: it’s been a long time), Artemis/Aphrodite in the Goddesses in Everywoman test (more Aphrodite, but I think that’s because some of the Artemis questions are very nature-and-sports oriented, so I don’t hit her stuff until we get to relationships and my lack of desire for commitment or kids or whatever*), probably Fire if we’re going all classical elements, a Libra in Western astrology and a Dog in Chinese, often the Page or Knight of Wands if I identify with the Tarot, Neutral with what I hope are Chaotic Good leanings…

…there are a million ways to classify a person. And a million ways in which a person, or a character, or whatever, doesn’t entirely fit one characterization, or complicates it, or whatever. We use the word “jumping-off-point” a lot in my job, and I think that’s a good one for these kinds of things: you take a look at a category, and you talk about how you fit it and how you don’t, and then suddenly you’re talking about all kinds of interesting things that you might not have mentioned if not for the category.

It’s not a definition. But it’s a very useful place to start.

*Like olives, or spicy food: absolutely great that other people want them, I’m totally pro-them-doing-that, but So Not My Thing.

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About isabelcooper

I'm Izzy. I write stuff: mostly vaguely fantasy stuff, and most notably the following books: Hickey of the Beast, published March 2011 by Candlemark and Gleam No Proper Lady, published September 2011 by Sourcebooks Lessons After Dark, forthcoming in April 2012 from Sourcebooks I also like video games, ballroom dancing, and various geeky hobbies like LARPing. I have been known to voluntarily purchase and eat circus peanuts. Like, a whole bag at once.
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8 Responses to On Classification and Characterization

  1. Kate says:

    And this is where the whole “genre ghetto” argument comes into play. I’ve been reading a lot about LOST lately, and whether it’s sci-fi, or “artsy” or whatever, and I’ve been increasingly pissed off by everyone. Because it’s entirely possible to have character-driven, arc-y SF/F, and it’s entirely possible to have dramas that have genre elements cropping up, and ARGH, why are you pigeonholing and why are you all being crazy and insisting that you have nothing to do with sci-fi when there’s giant robots around and…sigh.

    Yeah.

    In short, I agree with you entirely. Categories are actually wonderful things, good for a jumping-off point, and people need to realise that, especially when it comes to genre ghettoing.

    • isabelcooper says:

      Sorry this took so long to go through: my blogging-fu is weak, as of yet, and I kept clicking on things that I thought would approve it and didn’t. I’m lucky I didn’t blow something up.

      Yes and also yes. I like fooling around and categorizing things–the number of evenings friends and I wasted in college on What Mage Tradition Would Each Of Us Be? or similar*–and I think they can tell us something useful, but…perspective, I guess.

      Genre itself is an interesting topic, which…ooh, you may have inspired my next post.

      *We actually devised our own D&D-esque alignment scale at some point, with the axes being “drama” and “cheer”. So you could be Cheerful Mellow, or Mopey Dramatic, or whatever. I feel like I need to resurrect this if I ever run, like, Teen Drama: The RPG of This Is A Big Deal Somehow.

      • Kate says:

        Dude. I want to play that now, especially with alignment axes like that…

      • Patrick J McGraw says:

        My friends and I totally did that in high school, basically parodying every White Wolf gameline. Characters might be classified as Child Things, Wild Hairs, or Old People based on age, which would affect stats like Grossis, Teen Angst, and Anality.

        It was all wonderfully silly.

      • isabelcooper says:

        Sounds hilarious!

        College and high school gaming is really neat that way: you’re all living fairly close by, you all spend a fair amount of time together, so running that sort of game on a whim is easier. Or was for me, anyhow.

  2. isabelcooper says:

    I will totally run a game of that someday. Probably in Prime Time Adventures.

    Although, being me, I will have to include magic somehow. Or at least people’s Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers coming to life.

  3. Jarred says:

    I’ve often said much the same thing when the topic of “labels” comes up. The “don’t label me” crowd drives me as batty as those who tend to view labels too restrictively and rigidly.

    • isabelcooper says:

      Same here, more or less. Being in a group doesn’t mean you can’t criticize the group–in fact, I’d say it gives you a stronger platform for criticism–and while I can understand the economic considerations involved with not wanting genre classification…I don’t know. Being a horror writer, or a romance writer, or whatever seems to work out pretty well for a lot of people.

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