Discussing Literary Genre Essay

941 words - 4 pages


To define genre is to embark on a conjectural journey within a theoretical minefield. Genre theory has drawn immense debate and contemplation throughout literary history, however, several conclusions have emerged. Genre types are unfixed categories whose characteristics differ considerably among the specific genres; furthermore, the role of literary history plays a significant role in discussions of genre, for genre types evolve and shift with each new literary text. An approach to the discussion of genre, family resemblances, illustrates similar conventions among texts within a genre, but there are significant problems in this approach. There are several ways to discuss genre, and although problems abound in any approach, the subjective nature of the literary experience calls attention to the importance of the interaction between reader and text to provide the final word on genre.
      Although there is considerable theoretical debate about the definition of specific genres, the conventional definition tends to be based on the idea that texts within a genre share particular conventions of content and form, such as themes, settings, structure and style. However, the nature of genre leads to several problems inherent in the defining of genres. Certain genres are looser and more open ended in their conventions than other genres and some genres have many conventions while others have very few. Furthermore, literary texts that overlap and mix genres blur the distinction between them. Genres are not discrete systems consisting of a fixed number of list able items. Consequently, the same text can belong to different genres in different countries or times. For example, Latin poets categorized the elegy mainly in terms of its meter, while poets during the English Renaissance regarded the subject matter and tone to be determinate of form. History and culture play a role in the ever changing status of genres, which are difficult to define because the concept encompasses so many different literary qualities and conventions that can be broken or accepted, overlapped or mixed.
      Rather than define genre, some theorists approach the discussion of genre using Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of “family resemblances'; among literary texts. Although a literary text rarely has all the characteristics of a particular genre, this method involves the discernment of similar conventions among texts within a genre. However, the problem of selection arises, for which texts can claim to be representative of a genre? Moreover, who decides the selection of these texts? The consideration of specific characteristics in literature introduces problems regarding the classification of literary works. The choice of characteristics taken into account is essential to the discussion of genre types . The characteristics of specific genres shift throughout history to accommodate variations in the category that...

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