Welcome to the feature called Literary Genres. Here, The Muse Of Literature explains and explores the meaning and importance of the concept genre in literature.
about this feature
A genre is a kind or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like, for example : the genre of epic poetry.
In this feature The Muse Of Literature explores authors, bodies of work, and selected individual works strongly associated with specific literary genres. The Muse also explores issues and questions related to the subject of genre in literature.
A literary genre differs from genres in other arts, such as the genre of symphonic music in the art of music, by virtue of being a combination of a specific literary theme and specific subject.
Examples of authors and works characterized by genres are Isaac Asimov (Science Fiction), Zane Grey (Western Fiction, J.R.R. Tolkein (Fantasy), Agatha Christie (Mystery Fiction), and Stephen King (Horror).
The Muse has two primary objectives: 1) to explore specific literary genres and specific works of literature classified by genre, and 2) to explore issues and questions that arise in connection with literary genre.
The term genre in the world of the literary arts is a reference to the collection of all possible themes or subjects that any and all literary works can possess and display, and sometimes additionally to literary techniques, linguistic or language properties, and styles.
Note that literary works can posses literary properties apart from these characteristics. For example, literary works can possess forms (specific organizations or arrangements) and periods (literary eras, cultures, and milieus in which produced).
Referring to specific literary works or groups of works by their literary genre is a convenient way to identify, talk about, analyze, teach, study, contrast, and point out single works or groups of similar or dissimilar literary works. That's why the literary genres are referred to so often when discussing literature.
Mastering the subject of literary genre is an indispensable precursor to attaining a full understanding of the nature of literature. Being able to correctly distinguish between one literary genre and another, or between literary genre and other aspects of literature—aspects such as period or time, place, form, fiction, non-fiction, prose, or poem—is essential for anyone who would do more than read and enjoy literature—it's essential for anyone who would fully understand literature.
Some experts attach so much importance to literary genre, they hold the opinion that the entire literary canon can be classified by: 1) listing and explaining all of its genres, 2) cataloging the relationships between genres, and 3) assigning a genre to each work of literature. Since there's much more to a literary work than its genre, this is a mistaken notion; but there is something to be said for the idea that genre can and does have an important role to play in classifying literature. When properly applied, the notion of genre it can help bring order to what otherwise would be a chaotic collection of millions of disparate, disorganized literary works.
Unfortunately, perhaps no other literary term or concept has been so misunderstood, so loosely defined, or so often used and misused in so many varied ways by so many different people. Many of the ways in which genre is used are flat-out incorrect; and many of those who use the term incorrectly are critics, educators, and writers, all of whom should know better.
If genre were something real that you could touch or smell, perhaps there would be no problem with understanding, defining, or applying the concept; but, unfortunately, this is not the case. The notion of genre is an abstraction, a thought apart from concrete realities or specific objects. Moreover, it's used to classify and describe other abstract objects, namely written works. (If you believe that a book is a written work because it's printed on paper, think again; it's only a collection of words, which are symbols. The written work only exists in your mind after you read the book.)
Are literary genres really out there in the world or are they only in the minds of those who devise them? Is there a single right way to classify a collection of genres and subgenres or are are there an infinite number of ways to connect them, all valid? Are genres absolute things or do they merely express the cultural backgrounds of their creators? Is there such a thing as a correct or incorrect way to name, define, or classify a genre?
These are some of the questions that have plagued those who devise new genres and who classify old ones. The absence of definitive answers has been a source of serious confusion among artists, critics, philosophers, academics, and the public, who have had trouble coming to grips with the term and who have misapplied the concept time and time again.
As a result, like so many words in the arts, genre has become one of those vague, abstract, abstruse, artsy words that are easy to confuse with other vague, abstract, abstruse, artsy words. Vague words that mean different things to different people easily lead to confusion or misunderstanding. If you are having trouble crystallizing the concept of genre, if you are finding it difficult to identify the genre of a particular work—if you are confused about genre—rest assured that you are not alone.
Perhaps no other key word in the field of literature has been so misunderstood, so loosely defined, or so often misused by so many people who should know better. This, despite the fact that mastering the concept of genre is an essential precursor for a full understanding of the nature of literary art.
Do so many misconceptions arise because the concept of genre is inherently a fallacy? The Muse thinks not.
Literary genre—a definition
What does the term genre really mean when it's used in the field of literature?
According to The Muse, a literary genre is a particular theme or subject that might include properties such as literary technique, linguistic or language, and style. Different genres possess different combinations of these properties; each is unique by virtue of this fact.
Any single work that belongs to a given literary genre belongs to it by virtue of the fact that it demonstrates the combination of theme or subject, literary technique, linguistic or language properties, and style that define the genre it belongs to. A specific work which possesses the properties that define a particular genre is said to be an example of (or member of) the genre.
More than one literary work can possess and display the same combination of literary properties. The group of all works that possess and display an identical combination of such properties comprises the corpus of works that makes up a specific literary genre.
further clarify and confirm your understanding of literary genre
Understand literary genre? Comfortable with the idea? Further clarify you understanding with...
literary works classified by genre—Explore further
The Muse Of Literature invites you to explore literary works classified and organized by genre.
The page called Literary Genre Hierarchy Schemes—Example provides a sample list of works belonging to different literary genres and subgenres. The list is arranged in an indented list that is a kind of classification schema in which genres and subgenres are arranged in hierarchical fashion.
This list has been compiled by The Muse Of Literature to help clarify your understanding of The Muse's concept of a literary genre, subgenre, and literary genre hierarchy.
The Muse Of Literature is often asked whether a literary work can belong to more than one genre. The Muse answers this question here.
The genre of speculative fiction began with the works of such authors as E.T.A. Hoffmann in the 18th century and Edgar Allen Poe in the 19th century. The bulk of speculative fiction has been generated in and since the twentieth century.
Literary genre is just one form of genre. Genres appertain to all the arts.
In the world of arts generally, a genre is a class or category of artistic works that exhibit certain key aesthetic characteristics. Any work of art that that belongs to a given genre belongs to it by virtue of the fact that it possesses certain key aesthetic characteristics. To name a work's genre is to describe, define, typify, and tag it with these essential aesthetic characteristics.
Genres are found in music, literature, painting, film, television, or in many other arts—even in video games! For example, in music there are genres of classical, folk, rock, heavy metal, pop, blues, big band, etc.; in literature, there are genres of comedy, tragedy, history; in fine arts, there are genres of still life, sculpture, portrait, landscape, etc.; and in film, there are genres of documentary, animation, thriller, horror, etc.
The feature called About Genre In The Arts explores the overriding principles that all to all genres in the arts including the literary genres that are examined on this page.
Technical Aspects Of Literature
The technical aspects of any written work are its properties and techniques as seen from a literary and language perspective.
All writing incorporates and is made up of technical elements like meter, form, sound (rhyme), and figures of speech. Techniques and language elements like these are common to all fields of writing; all writers use them, deliberately or subconsciously. Any particular work can by analyzed, understood, described, and classified by the combination of the writing elements it incorporates.
In this feature, The Muse Of Literature explores writing and writings from a technical and design point of view—structure, organization, tone, style, language constructions, and all the other technical aspects that make for coherent, expressive, and effective writing, or its opposite.
How to approach a poem
A pointer is a piece of advice on how to succeed in a specific area. The aim of this feature is to provide a few quick and simple pointers to visitors who want to understand and experience a poem more intensely. The Muse Of Literature offers visitors a few things to think about when approaching a poem so as to get the most from reading or hearing it.
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