Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Literary Kinds: Thinking Through Genre, From Blogs to...?

Anne Dalke's picture

English 209/ Bryn Mawr College/ Anne Dalke
Spring Semester, 2010
TTH 11:30 AM—1:00 PM
English House Lecture Hall

From Rosamund Purcell's Bookworm

Final Performances

Logging In

Our Streaming Thoughts

Instructions for
Weekly On-line Postings

Class Notes

Preparing and Posting
Web Papers:

Final Ones

 Preparing Final Portfolio
and Self-Evaluation

" genre, you’re sort of buying a guarantee that you are going to have essentially the same experience again and again.  It’s a novel. It won’t be too novel. Don’t worry." (William Gibson, "Back From the Future," New York Times Magazine, August 19, 2007)

"All great works of literature either dissolve a genre or invent one .... Genre is a minimum-security prison." (David Shields, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, 2010)

In this course, we will explore together the ways new genres evolve, and ask what aesthetic, cultural and political purposes those transformations may serve. The development of literary forms has long taken as its point of departure the Darwinian theory of evolution (used most enthusiastically in Ferdinand Brunetière’s 1890 “L'évolution des genres,” it has been reinvented by virtually every student of genre since). Our thinking through Darwin and Brunetière will be supplemented by current theorizing about generic forms, beginning with the October 2007 volume of PMLA, which took as its special topic "Remapping Genre."

We will turn next to our first set of imaginative test cases: the emerging genre of blogging. Several tri-co professors and senior English majors who are engaging in this activity in a variety of ways will be guest lecturers in the class, and each of us will also be writing a blog on Serendip as a portion of our work for this course.

For the last six weeks of the semester, the class will select together a second (and possibly third?) genre for our shared examination. Do you want to look @ something old? (Following Bakhtin’s claim that “faced with the problem of the novel, genre theory must submit to a radical restructuring,” it might be interesting to explore three hybrid novel forms written in the United States during the same decade as The Origin of the Species: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “romance,” The Scarlet Letter [1850], Herman Melville’s “anatomy,” Moby-Dick [1851], and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “sentimental novel,” Uncle Tom’s Cabin [1852]). Or will you want to look together @ something newer, such as graphic novels, feminist documentary films, or video games? Or would you prefer to work through the writings of a single author, such as the South African J.M. Coetzee, about whom this advice was given in a NYTimes Review: "the prism through which to read...most of Coetzee’s work [is] a series of provocative genre-deformations...." ?

In a series of linked writing projects, students will 1) post weekly on-line reflections about the readings;  2) explore the specific new genre of blogs, and 3) of a second and 4) third generic form, before 5) examining a topic that has arisen for them in the course of the course, which they wish to explore further. In addition to the weekly postings, a total of twenty-four pages of writing will be required by semester’s end.

Course Requirements:

Bi-weekly attendance and participation in class
10 reflections on assigned readings/our discussions/related topics,
posted on the world-wide web (including one summary of a class discussion)
Three 4-pp. papers:

  • S, 2/21: what are you thinking about the emergence of the genre
    of the blog (or other dimensions of the digital humanities)?
  • F, 3/26:  what are you thinking about the genre of parody
    (or other ideas that have arisen for you, since your last paper??
  • F, 4/23: what are you thinking about the genre of the graphic
    narrative, or of film, or of framed stories, or of sequels....?
5/2: Final performance

5/14: Final 12-pp. project (what are you thinking about, generically?), portfolio and self-evaluation

Reading Schedule
T, Jan. 19 Introduction: Reading Some Images, Imagining Some Forms

Th, Jan. 21 Wai Chee Dimock, "Introduction: Genres as Fields of Knowledge." Special Topic: Remapping Genre. PMLA 122, 5 (October 2007): 1377-1388.

Stephen Owen, "Genres in Motion." PMLA 122, 5 (October 2007): 1389-1993.

T, Jan. 26 The Changing Profession. PMLA 122, 5 (October 2007):
Ed Folsom, "Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives." 1571-1579.

Responses to Ed Folsom
: Jonathan Freedman, N. Katherine Hayles, Jerome McGann,
Meredith L. McGill, and Peter Stallybrass. Reply by Ed Folsom. 1580-1612.

Bruce Robbins, Afterword. 1644-1651.

The Emergence of a New Genre: The Blog

Th, Jan. 28 Writing as Jo(e), "Blogging as Emerging Genre" (November 16, 2005).

Biography 26, 1 (2003): 24-47.

T, Feb. 2 Sarah Boxer. Blogs. New York Review of Books, 55, 2 (February 14, 2008).

Carolyn R. Miller and Dawn Shepherd, "Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog." Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs. Ed. Laura J. Gurak, Smiljana Antonijevic, Laurie Johnson, Clancy Ratliff, and Jessica Reyman (2004).

Th, Feb. 4 Hannah Mueller '10, Valpo Vida
Anne Dalke, Stranger in a Strange Land: Grokking in the Americas
T, Feb. 9 Kate Thomas, Syllabub: Words on Food

5 p.m. S, Feb. 21: 4 pp. of blogging due, about questions
raised for you by evolution of the digital humanities

T, Feb. 23 Tim Burke, Easily Distracted: Culture, Politics, Academic and Other Shiny Objects Specific Reading Suggestions from Tim

Th, Feb. 25  Nicole Gervasio '10:
The English Institute: Genre (September 11-13, 2009)
Jen Rajchel '11: the evolving genre of the senior English thesis
--constructing a digital archive

The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0
[To understand how "marginalia" and commenting can affect authorship and publishing, see also the original, A Digital Humanities Manifesto]

Beyond the Dissertation Monograph

Kathleen Fitzpatrick's site, Planned Obsolescence:
Publishing, Technology and The Future of the Academy

5 p.m. M, Mar. 1: post on-line a proposal for our next imaginative
test case(s). What other genre(s) do you recommend our exploring
together? Why? What might we learn from doing so?

T, Mar. 2 On-line and in-class discussion about our next test case(s)

5 p.m. W, Feb. 24: respond on-line to two of your classmates' proposals, trying to nudge us as a group toward some consensus...

Th, Mar. 4 Discussion, continued....until a decision is made!


T, Mar. 16 Wai-Chee Dimock's visit to class

RE-READ Wai Chee Dimock, "Introduction: Genres as Fields of Knowledge." Special Topic: Remapping Genre. PMLA 122, 5 (October 2007): 1377-1388.

Part II. Parody of Genres: Making Fun of the Forms
(and so Clarifying What/How They Do What They Do?)

Th, Mar. 18
Melanie Bayley. "Algebra in Wonderland. The New York Times. March 6, 2010.

Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll),
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)--any edition 

T, Mar. 23 Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll),
Through the Looking Glass
, and What Alice Found There (1872)--any edition

Th, Mar. 25  a selection of movies (plus 1 play
and 1 video game!) inspired by the Alice stories:

Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951):

Jan Svankmajer's Neco z Alenky (1988): "a grotesque look into the darkest, wildest recesses of a child's mind by surrealist Czech filmmaker"

Woody Allen's Alice (1990): "Alice Tate, mother of two, with a marriage of 16 years, finds herself falling for the handsome sax player, Joe. Stricken with a backache, she consults Dr. Yang, an oriental herbalist who realizes that her problems are not related to her back, but in her mind and heart. Dr. Yang's magical herbs give Alice wondrous powers, taking her out of well-established rut."

Alice Sontag, Alice in Bed: A Play in Eight Scenes (1992):
the life story of Alice James

American McGee's Alice: a third-person action game, set in
the universe of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (2000)

Tim Burton, Alice (2010): inspired mash-up of action fantasies: "Alice
in Narnia, With Stops at Disneyland, the Shire, Rohan, Naboo, and Oz."

5 p.m. Fri, Mar. 26: 4 pp. of blogging due about something that's
interested you since you wrote your last paper, which you'd like to
explore further: the digital humanities (as discussed by Tim, Nicole,
Jen, Wai Chee ...); syllabus construction (as enacted by us); Alice
in her various forms; and/or parody or other generic questions....?

T, Mar. 30 Neil Gaiman, A Game of You (The Sandman: Volume 5), 1993.
Th, Apr. 1  "

T, Apr. 6  Tamar Lewin. "'Sisters' Colleges See a Bounty in the Middle East."
Global Classrooms. The New York Times. June 3, 2008

Marjane Satrapi. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York: Pantheon, 2003.

Th, Apr. 8 Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. New York: Pantheon, 2005.

T, Apr. 13: Persepolis (DVD), 2.4.7 Films. Dir. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronaud. Culver City, CA: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2008 (95 minutes).

Th, Apr. 15 &
T, Apr. 20 (Selected) Stories from A Thousand and One Nights (via the Electronic Literature Foundation or the on-line Harvard Classics version, or a print version....)

Th, Apr. 22  
House, M.D.: "Private Lives" (Season 6, Episode 14
--watch also either Episode 13, "5 to 9," or Episode 15, "Black Hole")

5 p.m. Fri, Apr. 23: 4 pp. of blogging due about
the genre of the graphic narrative, or of film,
or of framed stories, or of sequels, or whatever
else you've been mulling over in the month since
we left Alice in Wonderland....

T, Apr. 27  House, M.D.:
Season 4, Episodes 15 and 16,
"House's Head" and "Wilson's Heart"

Th, Apr. 29 Final Performances

12:30 p.m. Fri, May 14:  12-pp. final project,
portfolio and self-evaluation