Cultural Contexts and Literary Forms

Essays on Genre

by Goethe Society of India (Volume editor) Chitra Harshvardhan (Volume editor) Rekha Rajan (Volume editor) Madhu Sahni (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection XII, 275 Pages


Genres mutate, disappear, travel through translation and sometimes re-emerge. Traditionally viewed as a classificatory device, the idea of genre has been challenged by anti-genre theoreticians who question the possibility of reading texts merely through a typological framework. The essays in this volume contribute to a transcultural poetics through an engagement with genre, viewing it as neither normative nor inflexible. They investigate historically established genres; genres that transgress conventions as they move between different art forms and cultures; and genres that, whilst seeming to respond to reader expectations, expand and create new communicative spaces. The volume includes not only theoretical considerations of the boundaries and scope of genre but also case studies of science fiction, poetry, aphorism, immigrant writing, filmic adaptation and the role of translation in genre.
This volume is the 2015 Yearbook of the Goethe Society of India.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Goethe Society of India
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Madhu Sahni and Rekha V. Rajan - Introduction: Cultural contexts and literary forms
  • Part I Critical Engagements with Genre
  • Margit Köves - Spaces, bodies and arts in the work of László Krasznahorkai
  • Judhajit Sarkar - To read or not to read generically: Notes towards some comparative possibilities
  • Sachita Kaushal - Blurring the boundaries: On the emerging trends in the genre of science fiction
  • Kamakshi P. Murti - Germany and its Muslim immigrant: The dissembling function of taxonomy
  • Chandrani Chatterjee - Translation as enabling: A case study of genre and translation
  • Part II Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Case Studies in Genre
  • Anupam Siddharth - Linguistic estrangement and science fiction in Arno Schmidt’s Die Gelehrtenrepublik
  • Sebastian Griese - Zwischen Erzählmodell und Gattungskompetenz. Ulla Hahns Roman Unscharfe Bilder und die Rhetorik des kulturellen Gedächtnisses
  • Michaela Holdenried - Spuren lesen. Forschungsreisen als Sujet der Gegenwartsliteratur
  • Andreas Wiebel - Entwicklungen der Gegenwartslyrik. Zum Beispiel Filzstiftpoesie
  • David Midgley - Der fremde Blick. Zur Verwendung hinduistischer Motive in Alfred Döblins Manas
  • Part III Genre in the Goethezeit
  • Stefan Hajduk - Herders Ideen einer ‚Logik des Affekts‘ und einer ,aesthetischen Poetik‘. Zur relativen Identität literarischer Gattungen unter komparatistischen und transkulturellen Aspekten
  • Carola Hilmes - The aphorism and the significance of this literary genre around 1800
  • Wynfrid Kriegleder - A comparative look at German and Austrian literature around 1800 through the lens of genre theory
  • Jochen Golz - Faust und das Faustische. Ein abgeschlossenes Kapitel deutscher Ideologie?
  • Notes on contributors
  • Index

| XI →


It is indeed a great pleasure to present to you the Goethe Society of India’s Yearbook 2015. The Yearbook mostly contains the research papers presented at the conference Comparatism and the Idea/Function of Genre at the University of Pune in 2014. The conference was organized in collaboration with the German Section of the University of Pune and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to commemorate 100 years of German Teaching at the University of Pune and Mumbai. The Goethe Society of India was happy to be associated with this event. The presence of two of the founding members of the Goethe Society of India, Anil Bhatti and Pramod Talgeri was indeed very gratifying. Equally encouraging was the presence and participation in the proceedings of two well-known Goethe scholars, Jochen Golz (President of the Goethe Society in Weimar) and Manfred Osten (former Secretary General of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation). The membership of the Goethe Society of India has been steadily increasing and due to the active participation and constant support of our members, it has been possible for us to regularly publish our Yearbook. Special mention needs to be made of the Goethe Society of India’s Vice-President, Shaswati Mazumdar, and Secretary, Madhu Sahni, for their commitment and effort in making this publication a reality.

The activities of the Goethe Society of India extended into a new area this year in that, for the first time, we instituted a translation competition for translating short texts, poems and excerpts of Goethe’s works into the Bhashas or Indian languages. In response to our announcement of the Translation Prize we received a number of translations into Hindi and Marathi from students of German literature, which is a good beginning, especially if these, in the long term, provide readers of the Bhashas with access to the works of Goethe. We would welcome positive suggestions from our members for our future academic activities.

We would also like to take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation to Thomas Schwarz, Romit Roy, Angelie Multani, Rajendra Dengle, ← XI | XII → Basantarani Haobam, and Helga Malhotra for the unstinting support they have extended to the activities of the Goethe Society of India.

We would, above all, like to thank Heiko Sievers, Director; Max Mueller Bhavan; and Markus Biechele, Language Director at the Goethe Institute, New Delhi for their financial support, which made the publication of this Yearbook possible.

February 2015

Pawan Surana
President, Goethe Society of India

| 1 →


Introduction: Cultural contexts and literary forms

A triadic understanding of genre, institutionalized in western literary studies long before Goethe’s ‘three natural forms of poetry’, has been the subject of much debate and disagreement. How does one define a literary text according to genre – is it according to form, structure, mode, content and reader expectations, or is it to be classified according to temporal and spatial contexts? May one speak of the ‘essence’ of a genre? Of course, Derrida’s ‘law of impurity’ and ‘principle of contamination’ (1980: 57) disallows this kind of understanding of genre. Is a genre analysis even a satisfactory approach to seek to understand a text? Zymner indicates how it is possible to undertake the task of determining the genre class according to any of the following criteria: factuality/fictionality, the characters/figures, form, function, content, the difference between the oral and the written text, prose and verse forms, modes of speech, fixed/independent forms, style, textuality, length (2010: 29–46). Beebee classifies and divides genres according to what he calls their ‘use-value’ rather than ‘its content, formal features, or rules of production’ (1994: 7). If we do indeed accept ‘kind’ as a ‘literary institution’, as Wellek and Warren (1942: 116) see it, and it seems impossible not to do so, it stands to reason that literary studies have to engage with the idea of genre. The lack of agreement among genre theorists about the terminology – what is ‘kind’, ‘genre’, ‘mode’, is the German Gattung different from the ‘genre’ and, if so, how – only makes the contours of the debate around genre identity even more unclear. Wellek and Warren suggest that it is preferable to define genre by ‘formalistic’ criteria rather than ‘subject-matter classifications’ (1942: 233) and that modern genre theory is ‘descriptive’ (1942: 234). ‘Instead of emphasizing the distinction between kind and kind, it is interested – after the Romantic emphasis on the uniqueness of each “original genius” and each work of art – in finding ← 1 | 2 → the common denominator of a kind, its shared literary devices and literary purpose’ (1942: 235). Genre conventions and traditions are then not inflexible categories. Despite a naturalizing impulse, Goethe too observed different genres merging in a literary text. Goethe distinguished between Dichtarten [poetic genres] and Dichtweisen [poetic modes]. Poetic genres such as allegory, elegy, novel and satire are listed alphabetically and remarking on the difficulty of naming them as they are classified either according to their ‘external form’ or their ‘content’ but not according to an ‘essential form’ [‘wesentliche Form’] Goethe states that there are only three true ‘natural forms of poetry’ – the epic, lyric and drama (modes) which can appear together or separately in a literary text (1958: 187–189). An inclusive understanding of genre opens up the field of genre studies and here one could draw upon Derrida’s disquiet with the idea of genre as a classificatory device, which leads him to hypothesize that ‘every text participates in one or several genres, there is no genreless text; there is always a genre and genres, yet such participation never amounts to belonging’ (1980: 65). The indefiniteness of this characterization of genre is eminently suitable for a transcultural study of genre.

The essays in this volume are a contribution to genre criticism and whilst they do not resist the idea of genre as anti-genre theorists and nominalists do, neither do they view the literary genre merely as a normative category with well-defined boundaries. Genre even when viewed as a classificatory device is not stable, but dynamic or ‘fluid’ (Dimock). Drawing upon Wittgenstein’s notion of ‘family resemblance’, Dimock analyses genres through their ‘kinship’ patterns, ‘even as their trajectories diverge’ both in time and space (2006: 89). Dimock does not see genres evolving in a linear fashion, but prefers to work with a ‘fractal model of looping: a model of recursive kinship’ (Dimock 2006: 96). Thus, genres cannot be unchanging; they may be specific to a culture at a given time, but may cease to exist there and re-emerge in another cultural and historical context. Using the journey of the Ramayana as a case in point, Dimock demonstrates how the form and content of this ancient epic has been transformed in different geographic and historical locations (2007: 1383f.).

The essentially innovative and discursive nature of genre and its communicative possibilities is apparent in the essays in this volume. We refer ← 2 | 3 → to the oft-quoted assertion of Marshall McLuhan that ‘the medium is the message’ to merely stress that genre does matter. Writers continue to give their work a genre label whilst at the same time challenging the ‘reader expectation’ by using well-established genre names for texts that have no discernible resemblance to that genre. Although reader expectations are usually activated most noticeably in formulaic genres (the mystery novel, the romance, thriller, family saga, etc.), yet even in ‘high’ literature a text identified as a play does upset genre understandings when it, for example, is entirely without dialogues.

The essays in the first section of this volume work within the broader framework of comparative studies as they look at genre experiments. ‘Reader expectation’ does not influence the structure and form of these texts, even when some of the essays study popular forms such as the romcom and science fiction. In her discussion on the aesthetic collaborations between László Krasznahorkai and Max Neumann, Margit Köves analyses how the translation between the visual and the written mediums alters the communicative intent of the text as time and space are treated differently in the different forms. Judhajit Sarkar sees genre as a methodological tool to understand textual and visual phenomena in an essay on how genres traverse cultures both spatially and temporally to reinvent themselves and assume new forms. Certain genres, like science fiction, emerge at a certain historical period in response to social and economic conditions. Sachita Kaushal’s essay looks at the emergence of science fiction novels in India and the new experiments by non-science fiction authors in Germany. Genre boundaries are stretched when a popular literary genre, here science fiction, hitherto seen as a western genre, is claimed by postcolonial cultural spaces or when the discursive structure of the traditional science fiction novel is transformed. Kamakshi P. Murti looks at ‘migrant literature’ in Germany, a term that is fiercely contested and controversial in German literature. She contends that Turkish-German writers create an alternative space for themselves in order to escape the limitations of a genre system that defines ‘high’ and ‘low’ literature on the basis of a historically established taxonomy going back to the foundational poetics of the western world (Aristotle) as well as to destabilize this hierarchical taxonomy. Chandrani Chatterjee’s essay dwells on the ‘translational’ aspect in the study of genre ← 3 | 4 → which underlies the transcultural nature of texts – an outcome of the dialogue between the source and receiving cultures. Chatterjee examines how at a specific historical moment, here the colonial, text types or genres were imported and translated into Indian languages, and these translated genres were either embraced or disregarded by the receiving culture.

In the next section of this volume the five essays offer a genre-based analysis of literary texts. What is markedly evident is the innovative impulse that the texts reveal, proffering only a few genre markers for the readers to identify. Anupam Siddharth reads Arno Schmidt’s novel Die Gelehrtenrepublik in the framework of science fiction articulated by Darko Suvin’s notion of ‘cognitive estrangement’. Despite the presence of several sub-genres in the novel, its genre membership to science fiction remains. Sebastian Griese looks at Ulla Hahn’s novel Unscharfe Bilder, which belongs to the genre of ‘memory’ literature and finds that the structure of the novel follows the genre conventions of the mystery/whodunit, but contravenes them at crucial structural points, creating an ambivalence without necessarily disappointing reader expectations. Michaela Holdenried engages with contemporary travel literature, specifically with accounts of expeditions, and finds intertextuality as the organizing principle and the anti-heroic attitude as an underlying principle in these texts. The inventive over-writing and erasing of newspaper texts to emerge as Filzstiftpoesie, a form that combines the script and the visual element, is the subject of Andreas Wiebel’s essay. The visual poem erases the earlier text, yet the original text remains visible, leaving space for dialogue. Translation leads to transcultural texts, as David Midgley’s study of an ‘Indian’ prose poem, Alfred Döblin’s Manas, demonstrates. The German engagement with Indian literary and aesthetic texts since Schlegel gave rise to this cross-cultural genre, which is defined by content rather than form.

The essays in the third section visit genre issues in the Goethezeit. A historical-analytical approach is adopted by the authors, who look back and consider how the genre could have been viewed and how it can be read today. The essays by Stefan Hajduk and Carola Hilmes consider how a broader understanding of genre taxonomy contributes to a transcultural poetics whilst the essays by Wynfrid Kriegleder and Jochen Golz look at genre developments within a specific national context. Herder had set aside the tradition of normative poetics and sought instead to establish ← 4 | 5 → an ‘aesthetic poetics’ which frees genre studies to be framed by a universal culture without ignoring the dangers of ahistorical universalism. Hilmes analyses the aphorism within the discursive framework of Wittgenstein’s notion of ‘family resemblance’, which allows for the blurring of the outlines of this genre. Most prominently the aphorism as an ‘open form’ encourages the reader to think further than the text, making it a dialogic form. Hilmes’ discussion on Goethe’s Maximen und Reflexionen emphasizes the self-reflexive critical attitude and the anti-hierarchical nature of the aphorism that is open to innovations and thus prepares the way for a transcultural poetics. Focusing on studying the genre, Kriegleder’s essay dwells on the independent development of Austrian literature often subsumed under that broader category of German literature. Genres are defined by historical developments and popular genres in Austria around 1800 such as the epic poem (already an outmoded genre in Germany) and the nationalist novel underscore this. Whereas in Germany the Bildungsroman and the ‘transcendental’ novel were the dominant novel forms, in Austria the novel was used to reaffirm a national identity. The final essay in this volume is an engagement with the Faustian in German literature, a genre in itself. Jochen Golz examines the ideology of the Faustian and the figure of Faust and how it has constantly changed till present times.


Beebee, Thomas O., The Ideology of Genre: A Comparative Study of Generic Instability (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994).

Derrida, Jacques, and Ronell, Avital, ‘The Law of Genre’, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Autumn 1980), 55–81, <http://www.jstor.org>, accessed 08/01/2015.

Dimock, Wai Chee, ‘Genre as World System: Epic and Novel on Four Continents’, Narrative, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Jan. 2006), 85–101, <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20107382>, accessed 25/7/2014.

—— ‘Introduction: Genres as Fields of Knowledge’, PMLA, Vol. 122, No. 5 (October 2007), 1377–1388, <http://www.jstor.org/stable/25501790>, accessed 06/11/2014. ← 5 | 6 →

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, ‘Noten und Abhandlungen zu besserem Verständnis des West-östlichen Divans’, Goethes Werke, Vol. II, 4th edn (Hamburg: Christian Wegner Verlag, 1958), 187–189.


XII, 275
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (November)
classic germany muslims
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. XII, 275 pp., 4 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Goethe Society of India (Volume editor) Chitra Harshvardhan (Volume editor) Rekha Rajan (Volume editor) Madhu Sahni (Volume editor)


Title: Cultural Contexts and Literary Forms
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
290 pages