Genre Theory Is The Invention Of Literary

Critics, And Adds Little To The Experience And Pleasure Of Essay, Research Paper `?A reader?s appreciation of a work of literature is largely conditioned by, or dependent

Critics, And Adds Little To The Experience And Pleasure Of Essay, Research Paper

`?A reader?s

appreciation of a work of literature is largely conditioned by, or dependent

on, a familiarity with the features of the genre to which it belongs, or from

which it deviates.? Examine the validity of this statement.What is genre? The word originally comes from the

French for ?kind? or ?class? and is a system of classification of media

(although ?literature? is the only medium that need concern us here) that seeks

to categorise texts into some kind of order. Indeed, the parallel has been made

between the generic classification of works of literature and the division of

all the creatures in the animal kingdom into various species. However, with a

discipline as creative as literature, classification can never be as precise

and scientific as that. So what dictates a text?s genre?Plato and Aristotle were the first to think about literature

in terms of genre. They saw genre as being distinguished by ?manner of

imitation? (or ?representation?). This is best explained by Wellek and Warren[1]:?lyric poetry is the poet?s own persona; in

epic poetry (or the novel) the poet partly speaks in his own person, as

narrator, and partly makes his characters speak in direct discourse (mixed

narrative); in drama, the poet disappears behind his cast of characters.So, for these first theorists, genre was divided into

three vast categories of poetry, prose and drama, each defined by how much of

the author?s own ?voice? comes through in the text. These categories remained

until the seventeenth and eighteenth century when writers began to think in

terms of subdivisions of these groups. Indeed, according to Wellek and Warren,

by the eighteenth century prose fiction had two ?species?: the novel and the

romance. For the Neo Classicists, genre was an important preoccupation. They

were fond of this kind of concise ordering of literature. This fondness for order

led Boileau to create a ?canon? of genres which included the pastoral , the

elegy, the ode, the epigram, satire, tragedy, comedy and the epic.[2]

Due to the rigidly authoritarian and traditionalist nature of Neo Classicist

criticism, any mixing of these genres was prohibited (the doctrine of ?genre tranche?). There was also a

hierarchy of worthiness applied to them (which is still evident today in a

subtler form) which placed the epic and the tragedy above the sonnet or ode

(Milton?s ?minor poetry? was of the latter, while his ?major? or ?great? works

are of the former). However, it was never made clear by the Neo Classicists

what it was exactly that dictated into which category a text fell. Wellek and

Warren have attempted to address this problem:Gene

should be conceived, we think, as a grouping of literary works based,

theoretically, upon both outer form (specific metre or structure) and also upon

inner form (attitude, tone, purpose ? more crudely, subject and audience).[3]So, to identify a generic text, one needs a combination of

an accepted style and continuous subject matter. Add to that the shared devices

and purposes (features) of the genre and you have the means to be able to

attempt to classify a text.So how does all this talk of genre affect the reading

of a text? Is it a pointless theoretical discussion with no relevance to the

appreciation of the text in question, or does it increase our pleasure and help

define the way in which we read and interpret that text? When one chooses which

book to read in one?s ongoing journey through the universe of literature, one

does not tend to simply pick a title at random. No, one tends to choose a title

based upon a preconceived notion of whether one will enjoy it. And what is this

notion based upon? It is based upon what ?kind? of text it is, into which genre

it has been placed. One has a familiarity with it?s ?outer? and ?inner? form,

it?s ?devices? and ?purposes?. Therefore one knows more or less what to expect

from the chosen text. It has been conjectured by Noel Carrol in his ?The

Paradox of Junk Fiction, Philosphy and Literature Volume 8? that the reason

people choose to essentially reread the same story in different guises time

after time in their consumption of generic junk fictions has a lot to do with the

pleasure gained from the practising of their skills of narrative

interpretation. By this he means:?the

pleasure afforded by the opportunity to guess or infer, often correctly, what

is going to happen next in an ongoing course of narrative events, as well as

the opportunity to make judgements, including moral judgements, about these

actions.[4] If one takes the basis of this theory and apply it

differently to non junk fictions, it still works. Take ?the epic? for example.

If one takes up a copy of Paradise Lost

for the first time, one is familiar with the features of the genre. One knows

that this text will cover a large expanse of time, will feature a hero who

exhibits the characteristics of great strength, courage and honour. There will

be battles, the pitting of wits between enemies all written in what is known as

the ?epic style?. One could argue that some of the pleasure derived from

reading this text comes from predicting how the author will fulfill these

criteria. Certainly a lot of my own pleasure in this text came from the

identification of the ?epic hero?(could it be Adam, The Son or Satan?), who?s

presence I was alerted to by virtue of my familiarity with the conventions of

the genre, and discovering Milton?s skill in fulfilling the criteria of the

genre whilst at the same time adapting it to suit his own purposes. Genre theory can help one?s understanding of a text. Take,

for instance, an author like Jorge Luis Borges. When one is reading his short

stories such as those that appear in collections such as The Book of Sand[5] it is clear that ?intelligent attention to the text itself? is not enough

to glean what approaches complete understanding. In his work on the?? hermeneutic interpretation of narrative

texts, Ricoeur pointed out the connection between the following of the events

in a story and the understanding of that story. The following of events only

occurs in a reader when he pays intelligent attention to the text. Therefore,

one could say that to understand Borges? writing, one only needs to read the

text in this way. However, I would argue that this is not the case. If you read

Borges with no reference to genre, one could miss the point of the story

altogether and misunderstand it. To approach something like understanding the

writings of a man like Borges, one must understand that he blends many genres

to produce his own individual style. In his writing, one finds the critical

essay, fantasy, science fiction, modernism, meta fiction and autobiography to

name but a few. Simply following the events through attention to the text

itself is not enough. One needs a familiarity with some or all the genres with

which he works to avoid being totally confused. One cannot find all the

pleasure that is possible with Borges from simply reading the text.Some of the pleasure gained from the reading of a text

obviously comes from the appreciation of the skill of the author. How does one

appreciate this skill? It could be said that full appreciation of this skill

comes from ?close attention to the text?. When one reads a text, one notices

the way in which the author employs language to inspire an emotional reaction

in a reader. The greatest pleasure can be gained from a single line in a text.

This is illustrated very well in a short story by Borges called The Other. Whilst sitting on a bench in

Cambridge, Borges finds himself conversing with a younger version of himself.

This ?other? conjectures that perhapse he is dreaming the narrator.?I can prove at once that you are not dreaming me,? I

said. ?Listen carefully to this line, which, as far as I know, you?ve never

read.? Slowly I entoned the famous verse, ?L?hydre-univers tordant son corps ecaille d?astres.? I felt his

almost fearful awe. He repeated the line, low-voiced, savouring each

resplendant word. ?It?s true,? he faltered. ?I?ll never be able to write a

line like that.? Victor Hugo had brought us together.What this example indicates is that full appreciation of a

text can come from simply reading it and enjoying the language and ideas.

Certainly, this is true in some instances. However, if we take the example of

William Golding?s Lord of the Flies a

knowledge of genre is central to the appreciation of the author?s skill and the

message contained in the text. Yes, one can read the text and be entertained

and absorbed by the events and the way in which they are related, but if one

did not understand the inspiration afforded by Coral Island one would certainly miss a large part of what the text

has to offer. Coral Island and

stories like it present an idyllic interpretation of what would happen if

English public schoolboys were stranded on a tropical island. The stark

contrast of the events in Lord of the

Flies increase the shocking realism of the text. One can also appreciate

the author?s skill in taking this genre blueprint and perverting it to drive

the message home that underneath the conditioning of civilisation lurks a

tendency towards the savage.So, we can see that in some instances, genre theory does

add to the experience and pleasure afforded by intelligent attention to the

text itself. However, I think that theorist?s preoccupation with genre theory

is somewhat pointless. The best example I think would be the obsession with

what it is exactly that defines a text?s genre. Daniel Chandler has saidSpecific genres tend

to be easy to recognise intuitively but difficult (if not impossible) to

define.[6] Due to this difficulty, theorists seem to be drawn

inexorably to the challenge of its unravelling. This has led to endless debates

between learned men that directs the attention away from the texts themselves.

For example, the contemporary theory that genres are defined by ?family

resemblances? leads the theorist to simply illustrate similarities between some

of the texts within the genre that they have been placed and not to actually

study the texts themselves. Anyone can point out similarities between texts and

I think it is somewhat unworthy of the academic theorist to do so. I also have

objections to effects genre theory has had on the way works of literature are

perceived. I mentioned earlier that the classification of texts prompted a

hierarchy of worthiness to establish itself which placed the epic above the

sonnet. This hierarchy is still in evidence today. Terry Eagleton in his

introduction to his Literary Theory

(Second Edition) draws the distinction between ?literature? and

?Literature?. This draws attention to the prejudices which exist amongst those

who consider themselves to be interested in L(l)iterature. The modern genre of

science fiction is generally considered by just such people, to be not as

worthy of note as perhapse the Gothic Novel. However, authors such as William

Gibson, Arthur C Clarke, Jeff Noon and Isaac Asimov are all ?science fiction?

writers who exhibit just as much skill and beauty as their gloomy counterparts.

However, due to this classification potential readers of the above authors may

not be inclined to pick up their books due to preconceived ideas about the

literary worthiness of science fiction. It is a dangerous trap. If they have

not read the books due to their genre, they will never be able to ?experience

the pleasure afforded by intelligent attention to the text itself?. [1] ?Theory of Literature? by Rene Wellek, Austin Warren, Penguin 1949

p228 [2] ?Theory of Literature? by Rene Wellek, Austin Warren, Penguin 1949

p229 [3] ?Theory of Literature? by Rene Wellek, Austin Warren, Penguin 1949

p231 [4] ?Making Sense of Genre? Deborah Knight http:/www p3 [5] ?The Book of Sand? by Jorge Luis Borges Penguin 1980 [6]?An Introduction to Genre Theory: The problem of definition? by

Daniel Chandler www