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Cultural Contexts and Literary Forms

Essays on Genre

Goethe Society of India, Chitra Harshvardhan, Rekha Rajan and Madhu Sahni

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.
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Madhu Sahni and Rekha V. Rajan - Introduction: Cultural contexts and literary forms


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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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