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History This concept of genre originated from the classification systems created by Plato. Plato divided literature into the three classic genres accepted in Ancient Greece: poetry, drama, and prose. Poetry is further subdivided into epic, lyric, and drama. The divisions are recognized as being set by Aristotle and Plato; however, they were not the only ones. Many genre theorists added to these accepted forms of poetry.

Classical and Romance genre theory

The earliest recorded systems of genre in Western history can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle. Gérard Genette explains his interpretation of the history of genre in "The Architext". He described Plato as the creator of three imitational, mimetic genres distinguished by mode of imitation rather than content. These three imitational genres include dramatic dialogue, the drama; pure narrative, the dithyramb; and a mixture of the two, the epic. Plato excluded lyric poetry as a non-mimetic, imitational mode. Genette further discussed how Aristotle revised Plato's system by first eliminating the pure narrative as a viable mode. He then uses two additional criteria to distinguish the system. The first of the criteria is the object to be imitated, whether superior or inferior. The second criterion is the medium of presentation: 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, epic, comedy, and parody.

Genette explained the integration of lyric poetry into the classical system by replacing the removed pure narrative mode. Lyric poetry, once considered non-mimetic, was deemed to imitate feelings, becoming the third "Architext", a term coined by Gennette, of a new long-enduring tripartite system: lyrical; epical, the mixed narrative; and dramatic, the dialogue. This new system that came to "dominate all the literary theory of German romanticism" (Genette 38) has seen numerous attempts at expansion and revision. Such attempts include Friedrich Schlegel's triad of subjective form, the lyric; objective form, the dramatic; and subjective-objective form, the epic. However, more ambitious efforts to expand the tripartite system resulted in new taxonomic systems of increasing complexity. Gennette reflected upon these various systems, comparing them to the original tripartite arrangement: "its structure is somewhat superior to most of 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".


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