The Genre of a Couch.

Over the last two months I have been observing Western Washington University’s Underground Coffeehouse. I’ve talked about The Underground in terms of place and it’s definitions, and now I will describe The Underground’s place as a genre.

Paul Heilker’s essay On Genres as Ways of Being is about genre and the different ways genre can be defined. Heilker goes all the way down to defining even a desk, as it’s own “genre”. Seeing as Heilker’s essay also explains genres as “human-created artifacts… technologies in a sense” here Heilker means that human-creations can be very different, a microwave serves a whole different purpose than does a desk.

However in The Underground Coffeehouse you don’t find desks. No, in fact the most notable objects are the couches, because though they fit into the theme of the coffee shop, they’re a rather unusual object to find in a coffee shop. And though the theme of The Underground Coffeehouse could be argued to be a genre of it’s own, I want to focus in on it’s couches. These couches are not natural; they didn’t drop off a couch-tree. No they’re man-made artifacts built with technology.

Most of the couches are comfortable, implying that the artifact or the artifact’s creator valued comfort. The comfy areas to sit also give the coffee shop it’s feel of relaxation.

Most of the couches are large as well; fitting three to four people comfortably, and five if you’re really sardining people into the space. Such a thing might occur during one of The Underground’s events such as Karaoke or SLAM poetry night. The spacious couches could imply community. This could be an area of communicating and talking if one chose to use it so.

Rarely will I come across a couch that is the same shade of green as another. The multicolored couches give an exciting vibe to the area they reside in. It’s exciting that no couch has that exact same pattern and gives an air of creativity to those who decide to rest here.

And these couches residing in The Underground are worn. Not breaking down in the needs-thrown-out kind of way, but obviously these couches have seen their fair share of resting college students. They’ve been durable through all the people who have sat upon them. This means the cushions have all been broken in with butt-prints now in the seats and fading arm rests. So instead of resting in a brand new stiff couch, the one who sits can sink deeper into the comfy seat. Again implying the value of comfort and relaxation and adding to the coffee shop’s atmosphere.

Some couches you sink further into than others. So if I’m in there working on a project I will have to be okay with a more limited mobility than I might have in a hard wooden chair.

In this same breath, the couch is very different from the desk Heilker describes. There is not resting space atop the couch, so you have to set you stuff on a table elsewhere.

The couches also don’t have “Property Of” written on them. No one has sharpied their name into any one cushion claiming it for themselves. Since the couches are in a public space and accessibly to anyone on the Western Washington campus no one owns any one couch or any specific spot on any of the couches, though if you’re anything like me you might have a favorite spot to sit in.

So viewing these couches in the coffee shop as an artifact and genre as Paul Heilker describes in the essay, we can see that genre can be defined anywhere from a style of writing, to even something as specific and ordinary as a couch.

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