Genre - Literature

Literature

In literature, genre has been known as an intangible taxonomy. This taxonomy implies a concept of containment or that an idea will be stable forever.The earliest recorded systems of genre in Western history can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle. Gérard Genette, a French literary theorist and author of The Architext, describes Plato as creating three imitational genres: dramatic dialogue, pure narrative and epic (a mixture of dialogue and narrative). Lyric poetry, the fourth and final type of Greek literature, was excluded by Plato as a non-mimetic mode. Aristotle later revised Plato's system by eliminating the pure narrative as a viable mode and distinguishing by two additional criteria: the object to be imitated, as objects could be either superior or inferior, and the medium of presentation such as words, gestures or verse. Essentially, the three categories of mode, object, and medium can be visualized along an XYZ axis. Excluding the criteria of medium, Aristotle's system distinguished four types of classical genres: tragedy (superior-dramatic dialogue), epic (superior-mixed narrative), comedy (inferior-dramatic dialogue), and parody (inferior-mixed narrative). Genette continues by explaining the later integration of lyric poetry into the classical system during the romantic period, replacing the now removed pure narrative mode. Lyric poetry, once considered non-mimetic, was deemed to imitate feelings, becoming the third leg of a new tripartite system: lyrical, epical, and dramatic dialogue. This system, which came to "dominate all the literary theory of German romanticism (and therefore well beyond)…" (38), has seen numerous attempts at expansion or revision. However, more ambitious efforts to expand the tripartite system resulted in new taxonomic systems of increasing scope and complexity. Genette reflects upon these various systems, comparing them to the original tripartite arrangement: "its structure is somewhat superior to…those that have come after, fundamentally flawed as they are by their inclusive and hierarchical taxonomy, which each time immediately brings the whole game to a standstill and produces an impasse" (74). Taxonomy allows for a structured classification system of genre, as opposed to a more contemporary rhetorical model of genre.

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