[LMB] genres and Miles

John Lennard john.c.lennard at gmail.com
Sun Jan 30 20:59:43 GMT 2011


Interesting points, assortedly, and the categorisation of genres by
attention to place, plot, and purpose works pretty well.

Professionally speaking, though, as a teacher of literature, the really
critical thing is to understand genre in a way that does not make genres
mutually exclusive. So many people seem to imagine them as pigeonholes,
little boxes into which works can be satisfactorily popped--and this leads
to the exclusion of anything variant, as well as ripe confusions all round.
In truth, genres (and the literary use of the term is pretty recent--late
C19) are dynamic and contingent, a shorthand names for sets of expectations
about what will happen in narratives, and those expectations can be
fulfilled or defeated or played with or ignored ; and of course differing
sets of expectations can be combined, and are, very frequently indeed.

Which doesn't of course stop the assorted folks who insist on this or that
restriction. In formal theory, the most recent real influence was probably
Darko Suvin, who wanted to exclude from SF the irrational--no telepathic
dragons, no ghosts, no fairy-tale creatures &c.--and whose work is still
cited by those engaging with the genre. To be fair he did have a very useful
phrase about cognitive estrangement--recognising a book's world as -not- our
world--but the anti-fantasy baggage that comes with it is a bore.

Lois calls a genre a group of books in conversation with one another, which
is a lovely idea, and congruent with her refusal to separate SF and F the
way that some theorists, some readers, and some publishers do. See her
intro. to *Love and Rockets* for her most recent comments on genre (there
was a free sample up, but it seems to have vanished).

-- 
John Lennard, MA DPhil. (Oxon.), MA (WU)
Director of Studies in English, St Catharine's College

General editor, Humanities-E-Books Genre Fiction Sightlines and Monographs
www.humanities-ebooks.co.uk



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