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nk0825's picture

The word genre has come to be understood as an encompassing set of characteristics that help readers to place a piece of literature into a category filled with works of a like kind. Yet, genres ultimately evoke much more thought and importance than the simple type-casting of literary works. Both Wai Chee Dimock and Stephen Owen imply that genres are no longer rigid guidelines that absolutely define every piece of literature; however, both respect the importance of genres to the world.


Stephen Owen’s historical approach to genre served as an interesting contrast to Dimock’s modern, almost technological take. Owen states: “If we cannot securely ground genre theoretically, we are forced back into the mess of literary history, where the terms of European genre system become merely local.” This statement seems to emphasize the importance of differences between cultures of the world, and how each culturally defined genre created actual and literal distance between comparable literary works. A similar concern also arises in Dimock’s work as she discusses Leaves of Grass as belonging to a very broad “world literature.” In Dimock’s case, such a broad interpretation leads one to think if maybe Walt Whitman’s words are being lost because multiple versions of his texts exist worldwide? Is it logical to try and form one cohesive genre from many culturally distinct, yet similar pieces of literature? If yes, the next question is, why is such integration necessary? Sometimes a definition is more helpful when it detaches itself from the object at hand and lets the object speak for itself.