Skip to Content

The Powers of Genre in a Non-Generic World

«Back To Seminars

Organizer: Marie Ostby

Co-Organizer: Adam Spanos

Contact the Seminar Organizers

For all the talk of “the world” in literary studies, studies on genre and its relation to power structures and epistemology are still lacking. Much of the debate around genre has centered on theoretical analyses informed by distant reading and the development of the novel as a global genre, without close attention to how changes in genre are shaped by political and epistemological shifts in how the concept of “world” is conceived.

This seminar draws on Pheng Cheah’s argument that world literature is based on an understanding of the ‘world’ as a temporal category, and that world literature has an ‘ethicopolitical horizon’ that can transform the world shaped by capitalist globalization. We are also interested in how these dynamics work in imperial or neocolonial contexts at different points in history and in different geopolitical territories. We invite papers that investigate how literary traditions and genres negotiate existing understandings of the world or invent new ones from their respective sites within a world structured by power differentials. To understand world literature ethico-politically requires attention both to the uneven distribution of wealth and power across space and to the processes through which literatures come into formation under heteronomous conditions. Treating the word genre philologically, as related to the Greek Genos (race, kind, nation), but also to the later German Geschlecht (generation, people, sexual difference), we invite papers that dwell on the multivocity of genre as an organizing category and examine the roles that genre plays for a world literature considered both spatially--in an uneven world--and temporally, as a process, a becoming, under 'unchosen' conditions.

Ultimately, this seminar seeks to interrogate the different networks in which the concept of genre can reinforce or disrupt hegemonic power structures. We ask, is genre, whether literary, cultural, or otherwise, inherently political? What might be the politics and power of genre? And how is it to be indexed, coded, and analyzed? Do Western works and conceptualizations of the ‘world’ supply colonial and postcolonial peoples with ready-made mental cartographies? Or has it been possible for writers in Africa, Asia, Australasia, the Middle East, and the Americas to imagine the world in terms that are not beholden to the Western geopolitical (un)conscious? Is genre a tool that empires employ to exercise epistemic violence against colonial and neocolonial peoples or an essentially plastic mechanism through which different and even irreconcilable worldviews may be negotiated? What kinds of solidarity are proposed and suggested by generic formations? Are these changes themselves symptomatic of epistemological shifts? In sum, what do the genealogies and/or rhizomatic manifestations of genre have to say about world literature and world history?

«Back To Seminars