Definition Essay - Genre

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Definition Essay – Genre

"Genre," in the most generic definition, takes the meaning "kind; sort; style" (OED). Prior to the term's inception, the notion of genre in the study of media emerged in The Poetics, with Aristotle's discussion of the mode or manner of imitation in poetry. Of this Aristotle writes, "the medium being the same, and the objects [of imitation] the same, the poet may imitate by narration - in which case he can either take another personality as Homer does, or speak in his own person, unchanged - or he may present all his characters as living and moving before us" (Aristotle, 53). Here lies the distinction between epic, lyric, and drama, a distinction based solely in convention, the usage of the medium,
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It is a French word imported directly into the English language, derived from the Latin "genus" (the stem is gener-), itself derived from the Greek "genos" (OED). Having evolved separately, the Greek word and the Greek idea converged. The Greek root-word, like its Latin relative, refers to a clan or race of people, or to offspring (Liddell & Scott Lexicon). This sense of familial interconnectedness is essential to genre theory. Frye writes:

It is clear that criticism cannot be a systematic study unless there is a quality in literature which enables it to be so. We have to adopt the hypothesis, then, that just as there is an order of nature behind the natural sciences, so literature is not a piled aggregate of "works," but an order of words (Frye, 17).

In conceiving of literature as a unified "order of words," Frye requires a system of genres which will encompass the entire medium, expressing each the entire state of literature at a given moment, all its bloodlines.

One might extend this idea of kinship to objects within any given medium, as in literature each novel bears a relation to other novels, or across several media, as a Western film may bear relation to a similar comic-book or radio drama. From this first approach, it makes more sense to think about genres in a medium or the genres of a medium, than to think of genre as a medium. Based on the questions raised in Aristotle's discussion, one might assemble a definition of genre more
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