Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

The Game of the Name: Genre Labels as Genre and Signature

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

The Game of the Name: Genre Labels as Genre and Signature

Article excerpt

In 2011 the author Helge Bille Nielsen (formerly known as Claus Beck-Nielsen) was acquitted of defamation charges solely on the basis of the genre designation of his book Suveraenen (2008; The Sovereign), which was labeled as a novel on its front page (Beckwerk 2013, 162ff.). The author was sued by his former friend and colleague, Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strobech, whose picture was on the cover of the "novel," and whose name was shared by its main character. Strobech's claim that his personal rights had been violated was rejected by the court because it considered the character Rasmussen to be fully fictional due to the genre label, and therefore unrelated to the plaintiff. Lesson learned: generic labels do matter, and they have consequences in the real world. Accordingly, it makes sense to consider genre descriptions as a genre in itself within the perspective of Rhetorical Genre Studies (RGS). I pursue this line of reasoning and examine the significance of the generic names under which literary texts present themselves, as well as the relationship between the genre label as a genre and the genre of the actual text. Furthermore, I am particularly interested in those genre labels that break with, and differ from, the established generic categories, a phenomenon I have elsewhere called genre signature (Nyboe 2015). (2) What kinds of rhetorical actions do such genre signatures perform, what do they mean, and what genre theoretical insights can be gained from studying them? In order to answer these questions, I begin with a discussion of the genre label as a genre, followed by a definition of genre signature. On that basis I move on to consider the theoretical implications of the concept through selected examples and a concluding, focused literary analysis.

JUDGING THE BOOK BY (SOME OF) ITS COVER

Even though questions of genre have been a central part of literary scholarship ever since Aristotle's Poetics, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the genre labeling itself--that is, that literary texts quite often present themselves with a genre designation, thus attempting to self-classify before any potential readers have a chance to experience and evaluate the actual text. (3) It seems that this small label on the front cover has been theoretically underrepresented and taken for granted in such a way that it has, to a large extent, not been seen as meaningful and worthy of interest, or as an independent rhetorical utterance with implications of its own. When it comes to treating the genre label as a genre, existing scholarship becomes even sparser. I, nevertheless, provide a quick survey of the reflections that have been made regarding the genre label, in order to build my proposal of a generic definition.

In his magnum opus on paratexts, Gerard Genette treats genre indications in his chapter on titles (1997, 56ff). He includes them with a discussion on titles because the genre can appear as part of the title (usually but not necessarily in the form of a subtitle), as well as an autonomous paratextual element. (4) Thus, his remarks on the title's communicative status also count for the genre label; namely, that where its sender is most commonly the author (in some cases overruled by the publisher or editor of the book), the addressees include more than just the sum of the readers, as many other people will come in contact with the title and genre (Genette 1997, 74ff.). (5) Another trait is that the genre label is optional to a much larger degree than the main title (which is only omitted rarely and with difficulty), but once it is there, it has an official status in the sense that "no reader can justifiably be unaware of or disregard this attribution, even if he does not feel abound to agree with it" (Genette 1997, 94). (6) Central to this discussion is that the status of the genre label as an intentional statement by the author and/or publisher can be subjected to debate and even disagreement, but not to neglect. …

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