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The Power of Genre

The Power of Genre

Adena Rosmarin
Copyright Date: 1985
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    The Power of Genre
    Book Description:

    The Power of Genre is a radical and systematic rethinking of the relationship between literary genre and critical explanation. Adene Rosmarin shows how traditional theories of genre – whether called “historical,” “intrinsic,” or “theoretical” – are necessarily undone by their attempts to define genre representationally. Rather, Rosmarin argues, the opening premise of critical argument is always critical purpose or, as E. H. Gombrich has said, function, and the genre or “form” follows thereform. The goal is a relational model that works. _x000B_ Rosemarin analyzes existing theories of genre – those of Hirsch, Crane, Frye, Todorov, Jauss, and Rader are given particular attention – before proposing her own. These analyses uncover the illogic that plagues even sophisticated attempts to treat genre as a preexistent entity. Rosmarin shows how defining genre pragmatically – as explicitly chosen or devised to serve explicitly critical purposes – solves this problem: a pragmatic theory of genre builds analysis of its metaphors and motives into its program, thereby eliminating theory’s traditional need to deny the invented and rhetorical nature of its schemes. _x000B_ A pragmatic theory, however, must be tested not only by its internal cohesion but also by its power to enable practice, and Rosmarin chooses the dramatic monologue, an infamously problematic genre, and its recent relative, the mask lyric, as testing grounds. Both genres – variously exemplified by poems of Browning, Thennyson, Eliot, and Pound – are ex post facto critical constructs that, when defined as such, make closely reasoned sense not only of particular poems but also of their perplexed interpretive histories. Moreover, both genres dwell on the historicity, textuality, and redemptive imperfection of the speaking self. This generic obsession ties the poems to their reception and, finally, to the openended, processes of hermeneutic question-and-answer stressed in Rosmarin’s framing theory._x000B_ _x000B_ _x000B_ _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5568-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. A Theoretical Introduction
    (pp. 3-22)

    Like all engrossing dramas, twentieth-century criticism is fueled by conflict. For the last two decades notice of this fact has been as consequential as it is conspicuous, our repeated discussion of our critical disagreements drawing our attention “deeper” in search of their cause.¹ Thus we have turned from performing the act of critical explanation to explaining the dynamics and difficulties of that performance. This shift, however, has not resolved the troubled surfaces of our practical criticism. Rather, it has brought into being another set of conflicts, definitively “deeper” or “theoretical” and, ironically, more deeply unresolvable than those we would explain....

  5. Chapter 1 Defining a Theory of Genre
    (pp. 23-51)

    Our word “genre” comes from the Greekgenus, meaning “kind” or “sort.” To argue, as do Richards and Gombrich, that “all thinking is sorting” is to argue that thought habitually begins with the generic or general: it defines similarity; it repeats in spite of difference.¹ The argument, which is characteristically modern, is also ancient: Aristotle in hisPoeticsargues that “the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances.”² It implies, that is, the...

  6. Chapter 2 The Dramatic Monologue
    (pp. 52-108)

    Dramatic monologues are interesting poems. Uniting the emotive intensity and formal tautness of the lyric with the inferential openness and immediate presence of the drama, they are both superficially easy and profoundly difficult to read. The problems of explaining dramatic monologues thus seem inextricable from their art. For this very reason, however, the agonistic drama of their interpretive history—the discrepancy between the value placed on these poems and our power to explain or even articulate that value—is uniquely instructive. It teaches that the monologue’s paradoxical allegiances—to spontaneity and premeditation, to verisimilar disorder and artful design, tores...

  7. Chapter 3 The Mask Lyric
    (pp. 109-151)

    In 1802 Wordsworth wrote “The Emigrant Mother.” Deservedly unknown, the poem nevertheless deserves our attention here because the poet-speaker’s statement of poetic strategy in the opening lines articulates the enabling imaginative supposition of all mask lyrics:

    Once in a lonely hamlet I sojourned

    In which a Lady driven from France did dwell;

    The big and lesser griefs with which she mourned,

    In friendship she to me would often tell.

    This Lady, dwelling upon British ground,

    Where she was childless, daily would repair

    To a poor neighbouring cottage; as I found,

    For sake of a young Child whose home was there....

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 152-158)

    Eloquence denying itself is always a curious spectacle:

    Mrs. Ramsay sat silent. She was glad, Lily thought, to rest in silence, uncommunicative; to rest in the extreme obscurity of human relationships. Who knows what we are, what we feel? Who knows even at the moment of intimacy, This is knowledge? Aren’t things spoilt then, Mrs. Ramsay may have asked (it seemed to have happened so often, this silence by her side) by saying them? Aren’t we more expressive thus?’¹

    Recent criticism has sought out such assertions of imaginative isolation and verbal impotence, assertions invariably linked and increasingly common since the...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 161-190)
  10. Index
    (pp. 193-199)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 200-200)