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Genre theory

Parent categories: genre - theory

By medium: film genre - literary genre - music genre

Theorists: Daniel Chandler - Tzvetan Todorov - Northrop Frye

Related: body genres - formula (as in formula fiction) - genre theory, corpus and tautology - rhetorics - trope - repetition

Genre as derogatory term: genre fiction - genre film

Contrast with: originality

Genre studies

Genre studies is a structuralist approach to literary criticism, film criticism and other cultural criticism. It looks at the structural elements that combine in the telling of a story and find patterns in collections of stories. When these elements (or codes) begin to carry inherent information, a genre is emerging. A simple example of this is a Western movie where two men face each other on a dusty and empty road; one dons a black hat, the other white. Independent of any external meaning, there is no way to tell what the situation might mean, but due to the long development of the Western genre, it is clear to the audience that it is a gunfight showdown between a good guy and a bad guy.

It has been suggested that genres resonate with people because of the familiarity, the short-hand communication, as well as nature of genres to shift with public mores. Many have considered genre storytelling as lesser forms of art because of the heavily borrowed nature of the conventions. However, admiration has grown. Proponents argue that the genius of an effective genre piece is in the variation, combinations, and evolution of the codes.

Genre studies has perhaps gained the most recognition in cinema theory, where it directly contrasts with the auteur theory of film criticism. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genre_studies [Aug 2005]

When a medium is prefixed by genre-

When a medium is prefixed by the term genre- as in genre painting, genre film and genre fiction this usually has a derogatory meaning. The fact that these cultural artifacts belong to a genre - thus can be said to be generic - somehow makes them less valuable. This is why one will find reviews stating that and I am making this one up: "Although Spike Lee's latest film Inside Man is a genre film, his abilities as a director elevate it to a real auteur film." What makes Inside Man a genre film is that it fits in the category "heist movie", what makes it an auteur film is Spike Lee's artistic vision, his artistic merit, his personal vision on filmmaking. [Jun 2006]

Place and genre-theory

Place as a metaphor for genre theory: e.g. pornographic films are shown is special theaters, discotheques play club music, etc...

Marquis de Sade
Consider the works of the Marquis de Sade, whose books are sold in mainstream bookstores and adult bookstores, and housed in university libraries. De Sade's works, which the intellectual elite views as masterful analyses of the mechanisms of power and economics, are also--at least if we are to take their presence in adult bookstores and magazines seriously--still regarded as sexually arousing, as masturbatory aids. Furthermore, as Jane Gallop's powerful admission that she masturbated while reading de Sade demonstrates, one set of cultural uses--one kind of audience pleasure--doesn't necessarily preclude the other. It is possible for someone to be simultaneously intellectually challenged and physically titillated; and it is possible for someone to simultaneously enjoy both the intellectual and the physical stimulation. --Sleaze Mania, Euro-trash, and High Art, Film Quarterly, Winter, 1999 by Joan Hawkins http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1070/is_2_53/ai_59210751/pg_1 [Mar 2005]

see also: Joan Hawkins - place

Genre lifecycles

The lifecycle of a genre:
  1. a certain number of cultural products (films, music, books), share common characteristics
  2. critics notice similiarities and come up with a name (see neologism)
  3. the name is accepted by the audience and a genre is born
  4. producers start to make products to fit the new genre classification
  5. parodies may arise
  6. Exception to these rules in case of a manifesto.

Reflections by Robert Stam

A number of perennial doubts plague genre theory. Are genres really 'out there' in the world, or are they merely the constructions of analysts? Is there a finite taxonomy of genres or are they in principle infinite? Are genres timeless Platonic essences or ephemeral, time-bound entities? Are genres culture-bound or transcultural?... Should genre analysis be descriptive or proscriptive? (Robert Stam 2000, 14) via Daniel Chandler, http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/intgenre/intgenre1.html
Grouping by period or country (American films of the 1930s), by director or star or producer or writer or studio, by technical process (CinemaScope films), by cycle (the 'fallen women' films), by series (the 007 movies), by style (German Expressionism), by structure (narrative), by ideology (Reaganite cinema), by venue ('drive-in movies'), by purpose (home movies), by audience ('teenpix'), by subject or theme (family film, paranoid-politics movies). (Bordwell 1989, 148)

While some genres are based on story content (the war film), other are borrowed from literature (comedy, melodrama) or from other media (the musical). Some are performer-based (the Astaire-Rogers films) or budget-based (blockbusters), while others are based on artistic status (the art film), racial identity (Black cinema), locat[ion] (the Western) or sexual orientation (Queer cinema). (Robert Stam 2000, 14).

Don Quixote and genre theory

Miguel Cervantes's Don Quixote has been called "the first novel" by many literary scholars (or the first of the modern European novels). It was published in two parts. The first part was published in 1605 and the second in 1615. It might be viewed as a parody of Le Morte d'Arthur (and other examples of the chivalric romance), in which case the novel form would be the direct result of poking fun at a collection of heroic folk legends. This is fully in keeping with the spirit of the age of enlightenment which began from about this time and delighted in giving a satirical twist to the stories and ideas of the past. It's worth noting that this trend toward satirising previous writings was only made possible by the printing press. Without the invention of mass produced copies of a book it would not be possible to assume the reader will have seen the earlier work and will thus understand the references within the text. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_literature#The_early_modern_period [Sept 2005]

Parody [...]

Some genre film theorists see parody as a natural development in the life cycle of any genre, especially in film. Westerns, for example, after the classic stage defined the conventions of the genre, underwent a parody stage, in which those same conventions were lampooned. Because audiences had seen these classic Westerns, they had expectations for any new Westerns, and when these expectations were inverted, the audience laughed. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parody [2004]

Genres are linguistic placeholders

Labeling something jazz or rock or rap or disco or anything else is a tad arbitrary. It's been a long time since genres of popular music stopped being genres and simply started being linguistic placeholders for similar sounds and styles. That's usually the main way music gets its names in the first place -- through an attempt to put into written language something that is purely an aural experience. The result are words that help us understand what we're hearing. --Shan Fowler for popmatters.com

Modern Genre Theory (1999) - David Duff

Difference and Repetition (1968) - Gilles Deleuze [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Much of the world's literature and criticism has been shaped by ideas about the nature, function and value of literary genres. Modern developments in critical theory and the emergence of new media such as film and television, have put in question traditional categories, and challenged the assumptions on which earlier genre theory was based. This anthology, the first of its kind in English, charts these new developments and contains judicious selections from major twentieth-century theorists including Mikhail Bakhtin, Gérard Genette and Jacques Derrida.

1 Benedetto Croce Criticism of the Theory of Artistic and Literary Kinds
2 Yury Tynyanov The Literary Fact
3 Vladimir Propp Fairy Tale Transformations
4 Mikhail Bakhtin Epic and Novel : Toward a Methodology for the Study of the Novel
5 Mikhail Bakhtin The Problem of Speech Genres
6 Northrop Frye The Mythos of Summer : Romance
7 Ireneusz Opacki Royal Genres
8 Hans Robert Jauss Theory of Genres and Medieval Literature
9 Rosalie Colie Genre-Systems and the Functions of Literature
10 Fredric Jameson Magical Narratives : On the Dialectical Use of Genre Criticism
11 Tzvetan Todorov The Origin of Genres
12 Gerard Genette The Architext
13 Jacques Derrida The Law of Genre
14 Alastair Fowler Transformations of Genre
15 Mary Eagleton Genre and Gender

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