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.


Shakespeare wrote plays, not screenplays. He wrote such a long time ago that he wrote his plays before people even wrote novels in English. (The novel is a relatively new invention).

Shakespeare alsowrote poetry.

Shakespeare wrote a very special sort of play: he wrote VERSE PLAYS. In other words, all of the dialog is written as poetry, not as English is spoken between ordinary people.

What do plays do that screenplays can't?

When film was first developed, many (especially writers) feared it would replace stage theatre. It did not!

When tv was first developed, many (especially filmmakers) feared it would replace movies. It did not!

What’s the difference between film, tv, and theatre?

Is any theatre "art"?

What do screenplays do that plays can't?

Well, for one, screenplays can be played over and over -- they can be reproduced.

Plays can be re-acted, but each performance is different.

Play scripts can be printed over and over again, but

-- the versions in the printings vary too!

What do screenplays do that plays can't? Special effects? Atmosphere? Huge jumps in place and time?


A critic named Walter Benjamin (pronounced Ben-yah-meen) wrote an essay called THE WORK OF ART IN THE AGE OF MECHANICAL REPRODUCTION.

I’ll be introducing parts of this work throughout the term.


from my lit & motion picture course (last time I'm teaching it is this term)

History of the Motion Picture

Movies begin as applications of technology
Magic Lanterns, Slides, Zoetropes, etc.

The American movie industry began in New York.

Because a more temperate climate allowed filming year 'round, the movie industry quickly shifted to Florida. However,

Los Angeles had good weather AND it was a haven from film camera patent enforcement -- the camera technology was under patent, but early directors did not pay the required patent licensing fees -- the patent laws were not enforced in LA.

More History

Many actors in early films were from Vaudeville, not “Legitimate” Theatre

Vaudeville skits used slapstick, sentimental songs, striptease, and melodrama rather than dramatic story, character development, and structure.

Vaudeville actors relied on visual comedy and violence rather than demonstrating emotion (as traditional stage actors did).

Vaudeville matierals and films of vaudeville skits are available at the Library of Congress:

The use of sound in the motion picture changes acting in motion pictures.

Silent films rarely used “scenarios” more than one page long.

The invention of sync-ed sound in film led to the development of screenplays.

Modern screenplays consist primarily of dialogue, whereas silent films had no dialogue.

“Legitimate” theatre and literature became common sources for scenarios and screenplays in the U.S.

History of Literature

The History of Literature can also be understood in the context of the History of Technology: the development of the book, the printing press, and electronic publication have enabled wider distribution of literary works.

Literary texts, films, and other materials published before 1922 are in the PUBLIC DOMAIN. They make be copied, screened, distrubuted and viewed free of charge.

Many classic texts are available free online.

Early films are available free online.

Early Films

Thomas Edison, who created one type of early film process, made many early films.

Early American films are available online at the Library of Congress:


Literature Online

There are many resources for works of literature online.

Project Gutenberg (note: named after the inventor of the printing press):


University of Pennsylvania:


More at the University of Michigan, University of Virginia, etc.


This course, like most, begins with defining terms you'll need to begin to think about as you bein your reading for the course and for your research papers.

The three act structure goes all of the way back to Aristotle, the famed Greek Philosopher, student of Plato, teacher of Alexander the Great.

Artistotle was a great classifier.

Anyway, he wrote about the structure of plays -- nota bene -- plays! although we associate three act structure with film and tv, and five act structure with Shakespearean drama -- in his work THE POETICS, which, like all classic works of literature, is available FREE online:


In the poetics, Aristotle defines most of the terms here in this assigment for HIMSELF. You will be defining the terms in the course for YOURSELF (and giving examples, which help!)


Have you read THE POETICS or parts of it in class? Like the MLA Handbook and Shakespeare's plays, it is something that most students of literature have several copies of around the house.

In the Poetics, Aristotle of focused on how theatre -- and these issues are heightened by film -- is the iimitation of life.

{is an adaptation like LORD OF THE RINGS an imitation of a book?}

Poetics: Tragedy and Comedy

"Comedy is, as we have said, an imitation of characters of a lower type- not, however, in the full sense of the word bad, the ludicrous being merely a subdivision of the ugly. It consists in some defect or ugliness which is not painful or destructive. To take an obvious example, the comic mask is ugly and distorted, but does not imply pain.

The successive changes through which Tragedy passed, and the authors of these changes, are well known, whereas Comedy has had no history, because it was not at first treated seriously. It was late before the Archon granted a comic chorus to a poet; the performers were till then voluntary. Comedy had already taken definite shape when comic poets, distinctively so called, are heard of. Who furnished it with masks, or prologues, or increased the number of actors- these and other similar details remain unknown. As for the plot, it came originally from Sicily; but of Athenian writers Crates was the first who abandoning the 'iambic' or lampooning form, generalized his themes and plots. "

Note that any sort of art -- poems included -- can be tragedy or comedies -- not just stories or plays or movies -- using this definition.

What's wrong about this definition? What's right? How can someone be writing about comedy having no history thousands of years ago and people still thinking that comedy has no history???

This Course

In this course, some of the materials are available free online, and some of the matierals are available in books you must purchase from the WLAC bookstore or another bookstore. Films must be rented from the Los Angeles Public Library, Rocket Video, Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, etc.

- If you do not already have a Los Angeles Public Library card, you MUST apply for one. In addition to offering free video rental, the Los Angeles Public Library has extensive online archives if critical matierals you will need to access in order to write the papers for this course.

- It will be very obvious to all of us if you have not read and viewed the assigned texts.

- You are required to post at least one paragraph or page in the weekly discussion group EACH WEEK of the course: answer questions raised in these lectures, contine researching topics or issues raised in the lectures, etc. etc.


notes for a new chapbook called Metal

poems to be called (warning -- not metal bands -- what I'm trying to indicate is, I guess, the lack of importance of lyrics to these pop songs)


The Circle Jerks' lyrics rondelets are delivered, but I don't know whether they'll pass muster.

drive time radio
after work last night
classic rock: echoes of Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" and Def Leopard's "Pour some sugar on me"


Van Buren Cantos

why all this slagging of Martin Van Buren,
by accounts an amiable fellow, who liked to swim
naked, who was fairly liberal
in tastes and politics (negotiations
with the world)?

Let's all down to the Potomac, then...

from Janet Holmes' HUMANAPHONE:

I just romped through Daphne Gottleib's How Things Burn, which begins with the hilarious "Mastering the Art of Poetry," a poem that borrows text from a manual called The Topping Book. Here's an excerpt:

if you want your poem to beg or struggle
make that clear.
listen to your poem's desires
and get ready

to be powerful and terrible.
your poem is quivering in front of you
and your iron will
as it kisses the collar you hold...

tell your poem
"you're about to get a verb you'll never forget, you little slut."

tell your poem
"I want to hear you scream."

tell your poem
"you only get forty more words, you greedy bitch!"

Daphne gave me the same chap at AWP. If all things go well, Daphne will be on one of my panels, and Janet on the other!
under review -- newest book from University of Iowa Press about experimental poetry by women; this book (LYRIC INTERVENTIONS) thus far seems to dwell upon the "problem" or "anxieties" of American female experimental poets vis a vis lyricism -- such poets as Fraser and the Howes are separated from other (more male than female) language-oriented poets by their different negotiation with the lyric "I" and with the musical qualities of language. Thus far, the book seems to be focussed on the lyric "I" and *emotion* (seems dangrous, but the relationship to feminist poetry -- which almost completely excludes innovative feminist poetry -- is clear), and seems to be deaf to sound and blind to "visual lyricism" (while a great deal of both is in the poems -- but i've only read the intro and the chapters published elsewhere).

The author recently reviewed the other recent book about American female experimental writers by Elisabeth Frost in Kathleen Fraser's _HOW2_ (well, it is no longer edited by Fraser, and the book insists it is _HOW(2)_). Checked this. It is just inconsistent -- it is not always wrong. There is some other sloppy editing though

another "cut through" of the poets (other than lyric residue or tendency as a gendered chactaeristic / practice / value) is british female experimental poets (alto incl. Carol Ann Duffy) and identity -- other than that this "topic" includes the token post-colonial / non-white writer (not even primarily a poet!), it is unclear from the intro why issues of identity would be more marked in the UK than in the US. She says they are because the american vision of identity is more unitary, yet she also says she hopes to be doing an Aldon Neisen / Nathaniel Mackey on women's writing

still another section is the author falling back on her more familiar territory, which includes Guest, Fraser, and Monk

it is strange to see HOW2 in an echo chamber, espcially the Lola Ridge materials! Especially since Ridge is not a lyric poet, but a poet with a small lyric gift writing away from that towards larger more realistic / political poetry
Just read on Kasey's blog lime tree about the tragedy in his family (his brother Harry was beaten to death):


through a link on Joshua Corey's blog



Dear Catherine:

I really liked what David Stromberg was doing, and I hope you'll pass on to
him that his book "Saddies" made me very happy. I also have an idea about
what he could do in some (not all) of any future lecture appearances. For
part of the time, he could put up full-screen images of his comics, without
the text, and then wait 3 or 4 seconds, and then say the text, and the
audience will crack up. This would enable him to duplicate, in the lecture
format, the effect people would experience when they sat and read the
comics. Obviously, that wouldn't work for more than 5 to 7 minutes, after
which he could lecture, but the audience would already have been initiated.

Anyway, I hope that you're very well. It was a lovely evening, I thought,
and really a step forward in the developing Smell series. But when do I get
to see you read?


Stan (Apps, who also read from his blog!)
some grokked reviews of readings I ran in May:

Mentioned the Todd Baron reading previously. May seemed to be the month of fairly successful readings with alternative arrangements.

Todd's students sat down around a table we made at B&N by scotting two study desks together. Three microphones into their little pa system. As usual, I introduced Todd, who is an important poet to me, as I was struggling to read Temblor regularly way back on the advice of Ann Lauterbach (Zukofsky's A also), and I read a review of Todd's O Books book RETURN OF THE WORLD; I asked for it for my birthday, and my sister Elizabeth ordered it through the old Books & Co. He then introduced his students, and they introduced themselves -- how their work was supported by Todd, etc. Interestingly, although Todd teaches language arts int he crossroads lower school, he keeps track of and supports the writing of many upper school students.

They were reading the last day of senior year in high school (the three seniors who read), and so the spirit was very celebratory.

I may have mentioned previously (right after the reading) that they read round robin, going around the table twice or three times (don't remember) and each reader ended his or her "turn" by reading a poem from someone else at the table.

Joseph Thomas' CSUN reading in the Writers & TEachers series was pretty special. I think I have pics I can upload (if they didn't get mislaid in the photographing of 2121 Bonsallo (a house we have a bid in on) frenzy.

It was a constraint reading: three students, Joseph, some D&D dice, some noisemakers, and -- 45 minutes!
foods in the fridge for dinners this week

chicken marinating in artichoke hearts
froz chinese veg. dumplings
mushroom risotto
stuffed red peppers

tofu chorizo
tofu taco "meat"