What is a Genre?

A genre is a “type of text.”
What’s a type of text?
What’s a text?

In The Anatomy of Criticism the formalist literary theorist Northrop Frye (1957) attempted to define “universal genres” to organize all of literature into categories.

So genres are a way of categorizing literature.

What is literature?

Good question! You might want to do a little research into a definition of literature and post the result in this week's discussion thread.

What's Literature?

Genre novels are not generally considered to be literature when they are contemporary – they are usually considered to be indicative of their cultural moment.

Some genre novels (Detective fiction, Romance, etc.) work their way into literature: Raymond Chandler, for example.

Some genre works do not “transcend their genre.” For example, no Harlequin Romances are considered to be great works of literature. However, you could probably build a decent argument for calling a novel (and film) like Margaret Mitchell's _Gone with the Wind_ a work of literature. You would probably encounter more of a challenge arguing that the comissioned sequel to GTW is a work of literature. What about THE WIND DONE GONE?

What’s Literature?

Generally written as art, not for a paycheck? What about genre fiction?

Written “creatively” (ex. Harlequins are written by formula and assignment)?

Of recognized value as art. Who recognizes it?

This Course

Of the works and movies in this corse, we are reading and viewing some works which are inarguably works of literature: Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare, and The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman.

We are reading some works which are arguably works of literature, by way of genre fiction: the short stories of speculative fiction writer Philip K. Dick.

We are reading one book which is not necessarily considered to be a work of literature, but was made into one of the best films of all time:

The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett.

What’s a text?

Modern critics seek to consider works such as films and television shows alongside works of literature and other examples of writing and visual arts which have, in the past, not been considered “texts.”

So, a text… might not have any text! It might be a picture or a “moving picture” which we “read” to understand.

Yet another term to consider looking up and posting about in this week's forum!

What’s a type of text?

If a text might be… a movie, then a type of text might be a type of movie.

But dividing texts up into categories in order to classify them might lead to certain texts being overlooked – what if something is an animated poem, for example? Is a novelization of a film script a work of literature? Fiction? Is it a text? How would you read it differently than you would read the movie? What was done to it to make it a novel?


Contemporary media genres relate more to specific “forms” than to the universals of tragedy and comedy. Films are routinely classified as 'thrillers', 'westerns‘, etc. Television genres include 'game shows' and 'sitcoms'.

What's a form?

Genres and Diversity

Some theorists have argued that there are many genres (and sub-genres) for which we have no names (Fowler 1989, 216; Wales 1989, 206). Carolyn Miller suggests that 'the number of genres in any society... depends on the complexity and diversity of society' (Miller 1984, in Freedman & Medway 1994a, 36).

What’s a Motion Picture?

Or, what’s film? Cinema?

For the purposes of this class, the course title indicates that by motion picture/film/cinema we mean … what?

A full length, story-based movie is a film. But so are Stan Brackage’s experimental works. Art films are films. What about Joseph Cornell’s collage films? Silent films are certainly motion pictures, but they generally had scripts, if any, one page long.


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