genre or movement?

I was challenged to explain what I mean by “genre” and how it’s different from a “literary movement”. So, is modernismo a genre? A movement? Or what? Some theorists talk about genre as form – as poetry, drama, prose; elegy, epic, lyric. Then there’s another way of talking about genre or subgenre, or “historical genres”: science fiction, gothic romance, realist painting. And if a literary movement is some people copying each other to do something a new way, or a particular way, and create a different frame of reference of aesthetic judgement, how is that different from inventing a genre — a body of work that shares some particular characteristics?

Or, think of it this way… a sonnet is a form, not a genre. But we could talk about a historical genre of “courtly love poetry” which often uses sonnet form. Or one could talk about a genre of writing about “courtly love” which would include various form-genres like poetry and exchanges of letters.

So am I way off base in using that word to talk about modernismo as a genre? And suggesting a countergenre? “Movement” doesn’t fit, and I’m trying to talk about the beginnings of decisions about canonicity… though I suppose you can talk about being canonical within a particular movement. But how critics/poets decide who’s in the movement and who isn’t is quite suspect. So if a movement depends on traceable connections between writers, and I’m reframing rather than proving connections, I don’t feel like “movement” is the right word. Plus – it makes me think of going to the bathroom.

1 thought on “genre or movement?

  1. I’ve always understood the term “genre” to be commercial in nature. It is a commercial publishing category, which allows a publisher to easily identify MOTS (More of the Same) to a specific target audience.

    It’s also a way to help Retailers break stuff up into categories, so its not all one big fiction section, which ultimately makes it easier for customers to find the types of books they are looking for.

    Sure, these definitions are arbitrary and capricious, but they are in fact there to help sell books to the people that are most likely to read them.

    Literary movements can focus on intention, and inter-textuality, and tradition… but genre, to me has always been a catagory that is defined by the commerce side of the equation. Genre, as a category, is relevant to writers only in the “markets” senses, as in I am writing for a specific market – “Railroad fiction” or “nurse fiction” or Detective fiction.

    The rest of it… well, I’ll leave that to the writers to argue about.

    -Jeremy Lassen
    Night Shade Books

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