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The Elusive Genre

Shayna S's picture

Genres are used to classify or "ground" a subject. To have a piece of literature named an "epic" emphasizes certain qualities and may even give it qualities that can then be used in analysis. To give it an identity is to immediately restrict the work to a preconceived paradigm. The authors of the two pieces we read (Wai Chee Dimock and Stephen Owen) actively reject this. Are Dimock and Owen afraid of the oversimplifiation of literature, something of which that should be appreciated for the complexity within itself?

Both Dimock and Owen describe genres as evolving and fluid concepts that change throughout history. In class, we discussed the quote from The Will To Believe "that none of our explanations are complete." Similarly, Dimock quotes Michael Wood on the "unfinishable" nature of the idea of genres. To me, the idea of incompleteness makes sense. Genres seem to be equally as changeable as any society that would create them. 

The picture of Darwin's Tree of Life from Day One lead me to think of the two readings as such: Genres are not descriptive of the literature that they are made to categorize. Instead, it seems, "laws" of genres seem to be demonstrative of the processes that lead to their creation. In fact,  it may be that one would have to look at genres and the history behind them to understand and appreciate the diversity and difficulty in classifications of literature. 

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