Essays on Genre
This volume is the 2015 Yearbook of the Goethe Society of India.
Madhu Sahni and Rekha V. Rajan - Introduction: Cultural contexts and literary forms
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MADHU SAHNI AND REKHA V. RAJAN
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...
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