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Literature {{#invoke:main|main}} A literary genre is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or even (as in the case of fiction) length. Genre should not be confused with age category, by which literature may be classified as either adult, young-adult, or children's. They also must not be confused with format, such as graphic novel or picture book. The distinctions between genres and categories are flexible and loosely defined, often with subgroups.

The most general genres in literature are (in loose chronological order) epic, tragedy,<ref>Bakhtin 1983, p. 3.</ref> comedy, novel, and short story.They can all be in the genres prose or poetry, which shows best how loosely genres are defined. Additionally, a genre such as satire, allegory or pastoral might appear in any of the above, not only as a subgenre, but as a mixture of genres. Finally, they are defined by the general cultural movement of the historical period in which they were composed. In popular fiction, which is especially divided by genres, genre fiction is the more usual term.

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. The concept of "genre" has been criticized by Jacques Derrida.


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