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Genre Theory Today

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Organizer: Martin Aagaard Jensen

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Scholars have turned to genre as both method and topic in recent years. It has arisen as a heuristic for literary sociologists, feminist critics and race theorists. At the same time, critics observe a so-called “genre turn” in the contemporary novel, noting that generic forms have begun to transgress into the domain of literary fiction.

The renewed interest in genre as an analytical tool is everywhere evident: Yogita Goyal’s Runaway Genres surveys the dissemination of the neo-slave narrative across the global literary field; Mark McGurl’s Everything and Less posits genre as a phenomenon of “market segmentation and product differentiation”; Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism tracks the waning of genre as a crisis of the ordinary; and Travis Foster’s Genre and White Supremacy considers the import of genre in racial formation.

While genre originated in the formalist toolbox, recent examples of genre theory are deeply informed by historicist scholarship. Once a rubric for structuralists and semioticians, it is a now a means of elaborating our commitment to politics. As a prism for studying the conventional rather than the exceptional, genre appears to grasp for what is communal and historical; it seeks to account for the emergence or the failure of shared horizons of expectation. How, then, may we historicize the prominence of genre in theory as well as in fiction?

This seminar invites papers that think through the utility of genre. It welcomes generic studies of literature as well as critical reflections on genre theory. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

Genre, gender and race
The politics of genre
Genre and economic stagnation
Genre as a periodizing tool
The limits of genre criticism
The literary “genre turn”
Genre beyond the literary text
Legacies of Bakhtinian and Marxist genre theory

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