This class I keep babbling on about: the professor edits and writes for an online scholarly journal called nonsite. One of the joys of this class has proven to be the defense of genre that’s crept in in various places. To wit: “Literature, Genre, and Standards of Criticism.”

If reading academic jargon gives you hives, avoid this link. But if no, this is may be the best defense I can give for my crit style at Clarion. I pretty much assumed, for better or worse (and I was often wrong to begin with this assumption, I’m sure), that everyone had the following goal, at least in the general sense:

“One central, characteristic purpose defined by the literary practice and served by the literary work is to develop in depth, through subject and form, a theme which is in some sense central to human concerns and which can therefore be recognized as of more or less universal interest.”

Hence, my “posit a theme and produce the most logical reading possible based on that account of theme” version of crit. Anyway, I was gratified to find someone who’d codified the thing I kept claiming I was doing.
Or perhaps this piece sheds some light on what Kessel meant when he claimed that literary fiction was also a genre. In which case, my crits were all wrong, since I used the lit crit model on everyone’s genre fic.
Clearly I must do more thinking on this…


One thought on “Teleology.

  1. Hey, one of my favorite subjects!

    Maybe it’s my film background, but I’ve always found the gulf between literary and pop fiction in academia pretty fascinating. Most film theory deals specifically WITH genre (perhaps because cinema is historicaly a pulp medium), so I’m always sort of taken aback by the apparent critical schism as it relates to literature.

    I’ve always had a hunch that Kessel’s claim perhaps speaks to the idea that there is a growing difference between literary fiction (the avant-garde, regardless of a chosen mode of representation) and “Literary Fiction” as a section in the bookstore.

    My understanding of the “Literary Fiction” as Genre argument is this: one of the hallmarks of ‘genre’ is that it targets a self indentified in-group of readers, and caters to their expectations. Genre doesn’t often seek to communicate with or challenge different readerships (fantasy writers write for fantasy readers, not mystery readers). Some have argued that modern Literary Fiction has become much the same. It puportedly targets a group of university trained readers and caters to their expecations of what the ‘genre’ should look like. It similiarly does not seek to communicate with readers outisde of this community.

    From a Scott Bakker essay on Literature in the Age of Information:

    “In the course of teaching theory and the classics, universities have inadvertently produced both the suppliers and the consumers of literary fiction, to the point where work that was once the province of intellectual avant garde movements now enjoys mass consumption and pride of place in many media.”

    (The essay itself is pretty interesting stuff: )

    With regards to your crits, I think you might be right in the sense that not everybody writes theme-centric pieces, but that in no way invalidates your input: the entire point of having eighteen different people reading our work is to have each read the text from a unique perspective. You were theme-girl, but it was appreciated!

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