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Genres are here to stay

TPB1988's picture

When considering the definition of the word genre it seems highly unlikely that one could classify every piece of writing in a manner that is organized and logical, yet mankind creates taxonomies for everything in life--literature included. The question seems to be why would one insist on a method of sorting texts by genres if it proves to be as dysfunctional as both Wai Chee Dimock and Stephen Owen claim? The answer seems to be that even the most general of divisions, such as the epic, lyric, and narrative, provide clarification for the public to a certain extent. Although a text might not perfectly fit in a prototypical genre, it could still qualify for the genre if it meets the general standards. Dimock poses a question involving apples and oranges and how through a classifying system one is able to distinguish between the two. Genres work in a similar manner by very simply pointing out the broad distinctions between texts.

Theorists such as Jacques Derrida claim that once a genre is created a norm is set and therefore “one must respect a norm, one must not cross a line of demarcation, one must not risk impurity, anomaly, or monstrosity” (Page 1377). Some may argue that Derrida is incorrect to assume that because of genres, an author is bound to certain restrictions and their work loses originality as well as creativity. It would be like saying that because oranges and apples are placed in separate categories each individual orange or apple loses it's sweet taste, and all oranges and all apples have begin to have the same similar flavor. Ultimately, genres do not limit literature because although they exist, authors do not have to shape their writing around any generic standards and the ever changing requirements of genres and genres themselves serve as evidence that originality is still possible. Genres are able to evolve as time passes due to the fluidity that allows it to be “generative rather than singular, with many outlets, ripples, and cascades, randomized by cross-references rather than locked into any one-to-one correspondence” (Page 1378). It is because of it's fluidity that genre will not cease to exist for many years to come.

Although alternate forms of classifying literature are available, such a tracing lineages, it is unlikely that genres will be replaced. Genres are necessary to life whether they function perfectly or not. By offering very general categories of where texts belong people gain a better understanding of the work. Both Owen and Dimock see the faults within having genres label all texts, but neither can deny that genres are progressive and accessible to the general public. After all, what would life be if one did not have a simple set of distinctions to differentiate an orange from an apple.


xhan's picture

classifying the unclassifyiable

Stephen Owen in "Genres in Motion" argues that if we attempt to "define or describe a genre […] we're assuming a paradigm with a limited set of choices. This implies that genres cannot be categorized, without some level of skepticism,  or rather identifying, classifying, and labeling genres is not as simple as it seems. Moreover, Owen argues that genre in history involes "changing motives", which relates to Dimock's article: "Genres as Fields of Knowledge".  In this article, I noticed that there is an emphasis on genres as a fluid continum, a "spilling over of phenomena" which further suggests that the labels to which we assign texts are constantly being overridden, redefined, and revamped. 

Moreover, not only are genres not easily identifiable or defined, but they are also representative of the progression of literature throughout history. For example, Owen describes the Pancatantra, the most successful Sanskrit literary report that traveled through Pahlavi to Arabic Hebrew, Latin and Italian and asserts that "early novel brings cachet to the history of a national literature". Meanwhile, Dimock asserts that genres function as a "horizon of expectations" […] but that horizon becomes real only when there happen to be texts that exemplify it. 

Although it may be human nature to want to label and define literature, since it is our way of assigning meaning to what we read or hear, these ontological names, or ways we classify genres is constantly evolving, and an ever-growing process: it is "emerging and ephemeral, defined over and over again by new entries that are still being produced" 

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