Concept of Genre (Lecture)

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Jorge Luis Borges’s essay “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins” (1942):[1]

These ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies remind us of those which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into

  1. belonging to the Emperor
  2. embalmed
  3. trained
  4. piglets
  5. sirens
  6. fabulous
  7. stray dogs
  8. included in this classification
  9. trembling like crazy
  10. innumerables
  11. drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  12. et cetera
  13. just broke the vase
  14. from a distance look like flies
  • Andrew Tudor: "empiricist dilemma"[2]
    • "To take a genre such as a ‘Western’, analyse it, and list its principal characteristics, is to beg the question that we must first isolate the body of films which are ‘Westerns’. But they can only be isolated on the basis of the ‘principal characteristics’ which can only be discovered from the films themselves after they have been isolated."[2]
    • Tudor's two solutions:[2]
      1. A priori criteria, "depending on the critical purpose"
      2. "common cultural consensus"
        • Rely on presumed consensus: "genre is what we collectively believe it to be."
    • A working definition uses both approaches
        • Validated by films themselves
  • Ways of defining genres
  1. Audience response
  2. Style -- the how rather than the what
  3. Subject matter (i.e., content)
    • Narrative structure
    • Theme

See also

Jason Mittell:

  • “The members of any given category do not create, define, or constitute the category itself. Categories link a number of discreet elements together under a label for cultural convenience.”[3]
  • “Rather than emerging from texts as has traditionally been argued, genres work to categorize texts and link them into clusters of cultural assumptions through discourses of definition, interpretation, and evaluation. These discursive utterances may seem to reflect on an already establish genre, but they are themselves constitutive of that genre; they are the practices that define genres, delimit their meanings, and posit their cultural value.”[3]


  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Tudor, Andrew. Theories of Film. London: Secker and Warburg, 1974.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Jason Mittell, Genre and Television (NY: Routledge, 2004).