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genre lines: never rigid

spleenfiend's picture

The evolutionary model is often mentioned in the context of the evolution of genre.  As I read Owens' essay, I was reminded of something I read about evolution itself - that humans only see themselves as a drastically different species because all the intermediate species between humans and monkeys are extinct.  When considering every species that has ever existed, classification is much more difficult because things that seem very defined start to run into each other.  Humans have to search for patterns over long periods of time and then categorize them. 

I probably thought of this because, as Steven Owens notes, the three defined types of literature (epic, drama, and lyric) become muddy when one starts to consider non-European writings.  Yet despite how much confusion exists over genre lines, and despite how many works can be cross-listed in many categories, humans easily assign genres to things they read.  It is also interesting to think about genre in the context of time periods; maybe something can't truly be labeled until someone can look back on history and see the big picture.

When I read Dimock's entry, I was most intrigued by the discussion of the internet.  I loved the suggestion that archives are a different kind of literature - that since the Leaves of Grass offers notes and many variants, the meaning is diffused and becomes less defined.  There is such a vast amount of information on the internet that it's interesting to think about how future generations will examine and categorize it.

Dimock often notes how maybe unoriginality is the strength of epics like the Odyssey.  He also discussed how references to Homer are so frequent even in modern times.  Most epics seem to have many variants, making genre again seem too limiting because works of literature are so vast and varying, just like the modern archives on the internet.

My own opinion about genre is that while I can say I like some genres and dislike others if I must, my true tastes really deviate from those preferences.  Personally, I like any story with interesting, well-developed characters to whom I can relate, regardless of genre or medium.  The genres one finds in a bookstore could not describe my taste at all, to be honest.  But this only goes back to the fact that there are so many ways to categorize things which overlap so much.


rmeyers's picture


I would definitely agree with your statement that "the genres one finds in a bookstore could not describe my taste at all." Which then got me thinking about the places/sections/"genres" I personally go to in bookstores, and I realized that while I don't usually enter the nonfiction sections (why?) I wander through pretty much everything else. If I have to, and I know exactly where a book is, I will run in and get it. But that's not what I find fun about shopping for books. When you enter a store, and move isle by isle, looking at the covers and titles and authors, that is the fun part. Defying the genre they have set up for you; turning to a friend and convincing them to read a book that they would never have picked up, because it is labeled "Science Fiction." And when they come to you after reading it and enjoying it, that's the fun part. Anyway, back to the point: I have fun being eclectic, and I will admit to attempting to impress bookstore employees by compiling the strangest combinations (to some eyes) of books I can. Why can't a person like reading a sci-fi book here and a Jane Austen novel there? And although it can be frustrating to see how much some people are restricted by the "genres of the bookstore," I find it fascinating to explore and twist.

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