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The Genres of History

mkarol's picture

 The definition of "genre" is dependent upon the personal and public opinion of the era. As Stephen Owen points out, a piece of literature once defined a "history" can change, along with the generation and its opinions, to become instead a "romance," and even then to "the novel in antiquity," simply by one individual's translation. But if what is supposed to be a defining marker of the contents of a work can be thrown away so easily, as "unwanted baggage," then genre cannot be anything more than a classification based upon the thoughts and beliefs of the public and intellectuals of the time. Wai Chee Dimock speaks of the "history of genre"; but is it not more fitting to say the genres of history? For as one society changes and moves forward, so does the way in which that culture defines and classifies.

What is called literature is written to be interpreted and analyzed, leaving the boundaries of what defines a genre permeable and subject to the imaginations of the audience. This makes what one often quickly assumes to be a convenient form of identification and location quite a bit more complex. If given further consideration, to define what is outcome of the inner working of an individual's mind, what is essentially in some form their thoughts, feelings, or beliefs, would be to place a limit on the human mind and it's capabilities. To say that literature is "virtual" and "fluid" makes much more sense than to try to exercise complete control over what intellectuals are still trying to comprehend, that is, the human mind. So as each culture changes, so does the understanding of a written work, and thus "genre".

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