s in Genres
English 90, Readings in Genre, is the gateway course to the English major. Its aim is to introduce you to some of the distinctive ways that literary critics and scholars approach the texts they read, write, and argue about.
You’ll notice that I’ve changed the title of this section from “Readings in Genre” to “Reading Genres.” I’ve done this to signal a shift in focus from kinds of texts to ways of reading. I’ve tried, in other words, to structure our work this semester not around the sort of literary genres (e.g., fiction, poetry, drama) presented in many textbooks, but around genres of reading—that is, around ways of understanding and constructing complex texts.
Many scholars now think about genre less in terms of form (e.g., a sonnet has 14 lines, a haiku has 17 syllables) than function. For them, a genre is a way of speaking or writing that responds to a particular kind of occasion, that does a certain kind of work. When someone comes to your home, you welcome them. When you’ve done something wrong, you apologize. When you meet someone who interests you at a party, you flirt. These are all everyday speech genres. There are many more. The point is that they are defined not by their structure, by what they look like, but by their function, by what they do.
In this course we will continue this line of thought by looking at some of the genres of literary reading—that is, at ways of responding to the sometimes odd demands that literary texts seem to make of us. We will approach reading as a social practice, as a set of moves for doing things with texts. Indeed, my plan for this semester is have us work with a set of texts that self-consciously retell or transform other texts—and in doing so to think about how writers and readers can make new meanings out of existing materials.
Good luck! I look forward to working with you!