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Theorizing Genre

Notes towards Day 9 of Emerging Genres

Theorizing Genre

I. coursekeeping
(re-schedule some) conferences on Wed & Thurs,
finish Moby-Dick on Thurs (conformity experiments--Ellen, Louisa)
papers due next Monday;
then some more theory, then Uncle Tom's Cabin...

II. old business

As comment on and extension of our discussion about publishing student work on the web:
Harvard Research to be Free On-Line
At Harvard, a Proposal to Publish Free on the Web

III. the use value of Paul's four forms of storytelling?
what form does Ishmael? Ahab? Melville? employ?

The narrative of an emergence story is that everything is constantly reaching for what will (or might possibly be) more useful in its particular situation....Moby-Dick...would be most like the emergence story, with periods of order (when the plot takes over) and then more spread-out sections, when the chapters don’t directly relate to each other, or at least don’t clearly progress from one to the other. These tangents (Ch. 80, “The Nut,” for example) are not useless—they are reaching for new possibilities and opening up new paths for inquiry. I think this book is so long in part because Melville wanted to include everything he could come up with that might be useful to some reader in understanding the book....
Jessy on humor theory applied to Moby-Dick:
"Humor makes it possible to make serveral statements at once"...
the satiric persona...the author uses as a mask....Where does Ishmael stand?
...there is a didactic (teaching) function to satire...the humor itself teaches.

latch-key under the mat? a chart of the undertow?

"I but put that brow before you. Read it if you can"...may be the key for me....
"clear Truth is a thing for salamander giants small the chances for provincials then?"...
these two quotes illustrate the ensions around knowing in this book...
IV. what form does literary history take? (my current project)
cf. with Northrop Frye's "five stages of literariness"??

Non-narrative foundational stories

mythicNarrative foundational stories

romantic Emergence stories

(high and low) mimeticAnti-stories


"The romance is nearest of all literary forms to the wish-fulfilment dream, and for that reason it has socially a curiously paradoxical role. In every age the ruling social or intellectual class tends to projects its ideals in some form of romance....The perennially childlike quality of romance is marked by its extraordinarily persistent nostalgia, its search for some kind of imaginative golden age in time or space" (Northrop Frye, "The Mythos of Summer: Romance," Anatomy of Criticism, 1957).

V. what form does the anthology take?
what can we say about the genre that is the anthology?
about the evolution of the anthology genre?

from the OED:
[ad. L. anthologia, a. Gr.

{alenis}{nu}{theta}{omicron}{lambda}{omicron}{gamma}{giacu}{alpha} (f. {alenisacu}{nu}{theta}{omicron}-{fsigma} flower + -{lambda}{omicron}{gamma}{iota}{alpha} collection, f. {lambda}{geacu}{gamma}-{epsilon}{iota}{nu} to gather), applied to a collection of poems.

cf. the " bouquets" of four different American literature anthologies...

what DIFFERENT KINDS of stories are being told about the history of American literature?

VI. Duff's Introduction to
Modern Genre Theory:
what did you learn? what are your questions?
kind of story does he tell about the history of this idea?

"Order and disorder will always co-exist
in different and varying degrees and characters."

history of theorizing re: genre
once a problematic, unstable concept, now valorizing, enabling device
origins of modern genre theory in 18th-19th c. radical German aestheticism
tripartite division of 3 natural forms--epic, lyric, drama--
conflates Plato and Aristotle, modes and objects of of representation
recognizes Hegelian/dialectical/historical/Darwinian character of genre
Romantic/English/Crocian/Derridean belief in possibility of ignoring genre altogether
breakthrough of Russian formalists:
discontinuous mechanism of literary history/degree of autonomy/
state of permanent revolution--> adoption and resistance
(special place of parody: expose/subvert conventions)
sociology of genre: ideology/dialectic of literary change (Marxism, Jameson;
Bakhtin: centralizing content, ideology; uniqueness of novel: primary, dialogic)
structuralism: Propp identified functions, invariants (morphology)--> < abstract/archetypal?
Frye's four primal narrative types: tragedy, comedy, romance & irony
variation, competition...
refocus from point of production to reception: function/expectation/Culler's "contract theory"
literary competence: readers' ability to recognise, interpret codes/
Hirsch's (normative) "validity of interpretation"
recent developments
defensive tone replaced by exuberant confidence (of Rosmarin!)
applied linguists, film studies, rethinking gender, blurred interdisciplinary work:
all communicative acts depend on codes, conventions
always in competition with author theories (=unique, autonomous)
restrictive model of intertexuality, less open-ended
confusing terminology (mode? form? type? structure? no species term?)

main function of this collection: empirical application
not Neoclassical delusion of comprehensive taxonomy or structuralist fantasy of total science:
accurate perception of genre spectrum in given period: how dominant how, cross-fertilize, vary, change, function ideologically, condition possibility ....

Croce: criticism of theory of kinds

When we think of…quantitative concepts…the individual expressive fact from which we started has been abandoned. From aesthetes…we have changed into logicians; from contemplators of expression, into reasoners. Certainly no objection can be made to such a process. In what other way could science arise…? The logical or scientific form, as such, excludes the aesthetic form (p. 26).

Error begins when we try to deduce the expression from the concept…[in] the theory of artistic and literary kinds….From the theory of artistic and literary kinds derive those erroneous modes of judgement and of criticism…asking…before a work of art if…it obey the laws…artists have, however, really always disregarded these laws of the kinds. Every true work of art has violated some established kind and upset the ideas of the critics who have thus been obliged to broaden the kinds (p. 27).

To employ words and phrases is not to establish laws and definitions. The mistake only arises when the weight of a scientific definition is given to...phraseology (Cf. to shelving books by sizes or by publishers, seeking out literary laws of miscellanies and of eccentricities, p. 28).

What do you want to read next week? how 'bout Bakhtin?