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Genre Trouble

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Organizer: Sonnet Retman

Co-Organizer: Danielle Haque

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Look up iMovie’s “Trailer Templates” and you will find “Spy,” “Fairy Tale,” “Swashbuckler” and countless other distillations of genre so familiar that auteurs under the age of 8 can both distinguish between them and determine the gender to which they belong. Derived from the latin root gen, “race,” “kind,” “family” or “birth,” and the French -gène, “that which produces,” both genre and gender are practices that classify texts and bodies. This seminar explores the ways that genre and gender make and undo each other. Wai Chee Dimock observes “the membership--of any genre--is an open rather than closed set, because there is always another instance, another empirical bit of evidence to be added.” More a “self-obsoleting system” than a rigid classification of like-kind, in Dimock’s account, genre is always “unfinished”: it refuses the containment of the very taxonomic regimes from which it seems to issue (see “genus”). How might this “unfinished,” “unpredictable” and provisional propensity within genre shape our understanding of the ways gender is constituted in familiar and not-so-familiar modes of narrative and representation?

Taking up genres familiar, emergent, cross, hybrid and strange, we investigate a number of questions:



How does genre enact, embody, give shape to shifting conceptions of gender and desire?


How does genre constitute gender as (il)legible? Elliptical? Unknowable? Where is the audience located in relation to these figurations?


How do genre conventions confirm or challenge conventional accounts of gender in or between languages and national literatures?


Do experimental, hybrid or crossed genres allow for more expansive, fluid understandings of gender? If so, how?


If genre is constructed through anticipatory and retroactive processes of categorization, how do these temporal dimensions shape genre’s articulation of gender?


As genre and gender (re-)configure conceptual borders, how do they move across geopolitical ones?


What is the relationship between genre, gender and queer orientations in space and time?


How do we understand the mobility and transformation of genre and gender in and through different media, from the novel to the video game to the 12 second pop-up ad?  



This seminar seeks papers exploring the intersections of genre conventions and gender representations in a broad array of cultural forms, including the cinematic, literary, musical, visual. Topics might include genre and gender in relation to racial formation, sexuality, class, disability, and citizenship status.

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