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Prospects Of Power

Prospects Of Power: Tragedy, Satire, the Essay, and the Theory of Genre

Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Prospects Of Power
    Book Description:

    Genre -- the articulation of "kind" -- is one of the oldest and most continuous subjects of theoretical and critical commentary. Yet from Romanticism to postmodernism, the concept of genre has been punched with so many holes that today it hardly seems graspable, let alone viable. By combining theory with dialectical literary histories of three significantly different genres -- tragedy, satire, and the essay -- John Snyder reconstructs genre as the figural deployment of symbolic power.

    One purpose of this approach is to reconcile the recent dismantling of representational and classificatory genres with the incipient notion in post-Althusser Marxism that genre is the crucial mediation between history and aesthetics. Snyder extends certain implications of Aristotle, Benjamin, Bakhtin, Foucault, and Serres. He also offers the first antisystem yet comprehensive genre theory to serve as a fully distinct alternate to Frye's formalist and Genette's structuralist schemes.

    Finally, Snyder's theory of genre as power opens a way to a fundamentally new theory of literature itself: that aesthetic language deployed as power organizes itself as generic intervention. Three historically dynamic configurations establish the range of all possible genres -- tragedy as power politically deployed as mimesis, satire as power rationally deployed as rhetoric, and the essay as power textually deployed as constative rhetoric.

    Specific analyses developing this important new theory cover a broad spectrum of literature, from classical to contemporary. Other genres, different media, and a variety of subgenres and modes political and religious -- all acquire fresh significance from the elaborations of Snyder's three selected genres.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5688-0
    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-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Contemporary Genre Theory
    (pp. 1-23)

    Genre, or the articulation of “kind” in aesthetic production and consumption, is both too general and not general enough. It is as close to a common assumption as anything in literary theory and history. Yet the more genre attains in specificity when applied, the more it tends to evaporate as an abstraction. Still, certain features of genre can sustain the tightest theoretical focus as well as accommodate the widest angles of application and interpretation. First, every work deviates from any particular set of characteristics that may be attributed to its kind. And over time every work combined with all others...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Tragedies
    (pp. 24-82)

    I begin this sequence of chapters on the operational literary history of three specific kinds with a study of tragedy because it possesses uncontested credentials as a genre, with a definite if still obscure origin, a clear set of developments, a demise (or many demises), and a discernible effect on certain other genres. Satire, by contrast, is both in itself, formally, more diffuse and more intricately compounded with other genres from the start. The essay, which provides the terminus of my range of genre, is, of course, extremely different from both tragedy and satire, not only formally but in its...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Tragic Genre
    (pp. 83-93)

    Historically, tragedy proper originally was, and continued to be through the 1830s, with Büchner, a form of live mimesis, or theater. This aspect of the genre is not merely formal: tragedy was a public occasion for the Athenians, and spectacle in itself suggested to Renaissance Christian audiences that this world is just a stage. Moreover, the primacy of the electronically “live” visual media of film and television in the post-industrial West is now essential to any adequate understanding of how, since the French Revolution, history itself has become spectacle, and images have become historical. Tragedy as a genre, as Aristotle...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Satires
    (pp. 94-137)

    When Hamlet answers Polonius’s question with “words, words, words,” he demonstrates with some knowingness the slippery seminature of satire. Tragedy’s action is constituted by history’s own specifically political action, the power differential expressible as the threefold possibility of the historical world: victory, loss, stalemate. Satire, properly speaking, has no action, just signifiers—words. These words have their bite, their edges, yet these edges lack the sharpness of mimetic-political action. Instead, they possess intention, or aim. Hamlet the satirist rhetorizes until Hamlet the tragic hero kills. He is Sophocles’ Electra and Orestes combined: the satirist denounces, sometimes like Electra under a...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Satiric Semigenre
    (pp. 138-148)

    Satire considered theoretically presents problems different from those posed by tragedy. To many, usage dictates a fairly clear distinction between “tragedy” and “tragic mode,” while the term “satire” applies indiscriminately to both the genre and its varieties of mixture with other genres. Moreover, to say a novel is satiric usually suggests something more superficial, technically and thematically, than to say it is tragic. My own explanation for this discrepancy in attitude toward two independent genres with classical origins, of course, is that although this remains only vaguely sensed in most critical treatments of specific works, satire is an unstable genre...

  9. CHAPTER SIX On and of the Essay as Nongenre
    (pp. 149-201)

    Before pursuing the generic implications of the essay as a kind of discourse from Cicero to the late nineteenth century, it is necessary both to retrieve my theoretical beginnings and to forecast my destination, which is a theory of genre as such. If genre can be formulated, as either method itself or hypothesis, without exactly defining it—my hope expressed at the end of chapter 1—then it is differential power. Deployable according to an indefinite number of sets of operations, or presentations, genre I have so far considered in its pure guise as tragedy and in its self-contradictory incompletion...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Toward a Dialectical Theory of Genre
    (pp. 202-212)

    Most genre theory, from Plato and Aristotle to Scaliger, Goethe, and diverse contemporary theorists such as Bakhtin and Genette, has been a refinement of two mutually reinforcing positions: that all art is representational in one way or another, and that its distinct kinds of representation are classes. Corollaries are that the individual genres serve to guide the production of art and that they condition the consumption and interpretation of both individual works and groupings of works. Gérard Genette, for example, believing that “l’étude des transformations implique l’examen . . . des permanences [the study of transformations implies the consideration ....

  11. Notes
    (pp. 213-218)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 219-223)
  13. Index
    (pp. 224-240)