Genre matters essays in theory and criticism

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Expedited US delivery available. Genre Matters : Essays in Theory and Criticism. This collection of new essays addresses a topic of established and expanding critical interest throughout the humanities. It demonstrates that genre matters in a manner not constrained by disciplinary boundaries and includes new work on Genre Theory and applications of thinking about genre from Aristotle to Derrida and beyond. The essays focus on economies of expectation and competency, genre as media form, recent developments in television broadcast genres, translation and genericity, the role played by genre in film publicity, gender and genre, genre in fiction, and the problematics of classification.

An introductory essay places the contributions in the context of a wide range of thinking about genre in the arts, media and humanities. This is a much different proposition from that which insists on the constituents of genre as discernible entities. Such a scenario might be less anomalous, perhaps, if genre is considered on a par with tropes in general. Throughout and since the period of the Enlightenment, the theory of tropes has been curiously instrumental in evacuating agency from textuality when it might have figured irony, metaphor and so forth as so many convenors of individualism.

What is clear is that genre theory in the twentieth century was, in the first instance, tied to a change in the status of knowledge in the West and the re—orientation of the role of the university. Synchronic study, as with Saussure, entailed the questioning of the very basis and conditions which allowed phenomena to exist and function. The other facts that precipitated the growth of genre theory in the twentieth century were the proliferation of narratives in general and, in particular, an understanding of narrative by reference to genre.

The first point grows out of the establishment of new media.

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Ultimately, without this proliferation and familiarisation of narrative signs the phenomenon called postmodernism would not really have become manifest in the way that it seems to have done. Distinctions between radio and television narratives — and even those on film — were dominated by genre rather than authorship. For most consumers of narratives in these media and it is true that genre could be a marker of consumer choice it made no sense to identify the author of radio narratives such as The Shadow, Dick Barton and The Archers or television programmes such as I Love Lucy, Coronation Street and Friends.

In any case, the question of authorship would be complex: was the scriptwriter the author, or was it the director, or the star, or in radio the sound engineer, or in television and film the director of photography? By the early s genre theory found itself at a curiously overdetermined juncture. The focus of genre theory for the majority of the century had still been within literature and drama; as the universities began to embrace the study of film, and then television and other popular media in the late s in the United States and later elsewhere , the prescriptive impulse in genre theory diminished.

The post-Second World War period had seen a panoply of social factors dictate a temporary decline in adherence to prescriptive attitudes in general. Indeed, it has remained so in genre theory for a number of years see Hess Wright, [originally ] and Lipsitz, In an ingenious analysis Palmer shows that a set of economic and ideological conditions occurring at the moment that the thriller genre crystallised, in the early- to mid-nineteenth-century West, resulted in the inscription of capitalist social relations into the very fabric of the genre.

These include a growing fear of crime, the cementing of views about property and theft, in addition to the forging of a liberal hegemony of laissez-faire individualism and entrepreneurial industry. So, of course, generic innovation is the first casualty of ideological-structural studies of genre. Yet, so too, concomitantly, is the understanding of capitalism as an object. In fact, ideological-structural analyses of genre can almost be forgiven for positing capitalism as a thing.

To be sure, capitalism is dominated by material and by objects, including the brute realities of exploitation, poverty, wealth and wars to secure these latter. But what has become increasingly evident since the s is the stronglayout. It is true that new generic elements or new hybrid genres do appear from time to time and it is also the case that capitalism continues to find novel ways of extending exploitation in the name of extracting surplus value. To posit genre as an unchangeable thing — or even as an object — is, effectively, to maintain an untenable monologic perspective on signification.

Another way of putting this is to say that genre cannot be sustained in anything other than dialogue. As genre is the prime mover in one kind of sign relationship it is necessarily a part of dialogue because, by definition, a sign is not for itself but for an other. The basic definition of sign to be found in Peirce states, in an eminently straightforward fashion: A sign, or representamen, is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity.

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It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign. That sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign. The sign stands for something, its object. It stands for that object, not in all respects, but in reference to a sort of idea. A further way, still, in which the question of understanding genre dialogically may be addressed concerns, simply, readership. If generic texts are signs conditioned by alterity, then they require readers to recognise and interpret them.

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Once again, it may seem surprising that this issue needs to be raised here. In the field of communication sciences it is well known that there has been a renaissance in audience studies since the s, much of which has shed light not only on media but also on textuality. However, it should be remembered that only humans have semiotics, that is to say the ability to question the functioning or veracity of signs. However, one would not guess this from many writings about genre in the same period see, for example, Austin and Gordon, ; Cranny-Francis, ; Welsch, ; Lipsitz, ; Porter, ; Ryall, It is almost as if generic texts still constitute a dishonourable exception in the roll-call of textual multiplicity.

By definite means the expectations which enact generic signs may act to close down the multiplicity which seemingly accrues to other texts. In other words, generic signs, thoroughly imbued with expectation, are susceptible to objective experience of them as limited in meaning.


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Those who have repeatedly argued against such traditional text-centredness have implicitly attempted to show that such fears are groundless Altman, ; Cobley, ; Makinen, In fact, it has been demonstrated that the contrary is the case: genre theory has more work ahead of it than was ever envisaged in the heyday of text-centredness during the first seventy or so years of the last century.

The following agenda for the study of genre as an expectation rather than as textual features will, it is hoped, alleviate the worst of these fears.

The Althusserian derivation of the term is important in this context because of what has been discussed regarding homologies of capitalism and genre. It would be folly, Althusser recognised, to rely on a strict relation of determination between single levels.

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One of the ways in which a reading formation might be interrogated more closely is through signs that more obviously pertain to specific generic texts. In fact, such below-the-line publicity has become so routine and aggressive that it has even generated public disdain the blanket publicising of the James Bond film, Die Another Day, is an example of this. Another institutionalised spur to expectations might be reviews of generic texts which, ostensibly, add up to judgments of some level of quality.

The sheer enormity of reading formations need not be an occasion for despair, though. Principally, such studies have shown that the reading formation is the natural habitat for the expectations which make up a genre at any given time. This is not merely because above-the-line signs such as posters for films, billboards for books and television or radio programmes, and all sorts of advertisements are also financed by producers. Both are part of generic expectation in general: when somebody bursts into song during a musical, this does not confound expectations; likewise, expectations of generic rules will be dependent on the doxa, a regime of verisimilitude in itself constantly shifting according to a complex set of checks and balances which characterise the world of discourse in general.

Plot is just one example of a slippage between the semantic and syntactic realms and, thus, as Altman insists, neither realm should be considered as discrete textual zones. However, it also augments the profound bad faith of a great deal of genre theory in a number of fields where textuality is studied.


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Altman therefore strongly advocates the exploration in genre theory of the use-orientation of expectant readers. Generic meanings are not merely created by publicity; nor are they unproblematically the products of already existing broad belief. It is sustained by a relation of expectancy.

Genre & Historical Materialism

Jost, Clearly, expectations can be met and this can take place when a complex set of conditions are favourable in sustaining genre. However, when signs pass from one set of historical conditions to another, the character of genre is exposed: expectations are sometimes more easily met, or, alternatively, they can be smothered at birth. Bibliography Althusser, L. Brewster, London, New Left Books, Grant ed. Browne ed.


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Austin, B. Bennett, T. Attridge et al. Brent, J. Buscombe, E.

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