Writing About Literature: Form and Genre

Form and Genre
Section 01
Noah Heringman
Course Description

In this class we will discover how the map of literary kinds has changed over time.  Today poetry is sometimes approached as a genre.  At other times and in other places poetry has been understood as a constellation of genres in verse: elegy, epic, ballad, romance.  Over time, epic made its way into film; the ballad crossed over from popular music into poetry and back again.  A seemingly realistic kind of prose fiction called the “novel” took the reading world by storm in the eighteenth century and just as quickly branched into so many kinds—including Gothic, confession, Bildungsroman, science fiction, to name just a few—that we will only be able to locate a few in one semester’s map. In the age of the internet, the possibilities for reconfiguring form and genre seem endless. Our texts for the class will include works that cross generic boundaries and experiment with form, such as Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, Jean Toomer’s Cane, Shakespeare’s Arcadia, and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, among other possibilities.  We will also use an anthology to understand the norms that redefined poetry, fiction, and drama themselves as genres in the twentieth century.  Student will also explore different genres in their own writing, which includes an informal reading journal; a formalist close reading of a poem; a research paper that combines literature, theory, and history; and a multi-media project in which you identify and define a genre that exists today.  The main goal of the class is to understand the work that form and genre do in culture and to make more use of these concepts in other classes and outside of class.