- The Poetics of Genre in the Contemporary Novel ed. by Tim Lanzendörfer
As Lev Grossman claims, there has been a generic turn in contemporary fiction and many writers have been “frantically borrowing from genre fiction” (“Literary Revolution,” Time May 23, 2012). Undoubtedly, genre plays an increasingly vital role in shaping the poetics of contemporary literature. However, the contemporary debate on the value of genre fiction and the boundary between genre and literary fiction tends to be extreme. Genre skeptics dismiss genre fiction while genre champions claim literary fiction is exhausted. The Poetics of Genre in the Contemporary Novel (2016), edited by Tim Lanzendörfer, is a timely and valuable contribution to this debate. It reexamines the argument and offers insightful and broad perspectives on the poetics of the contemporary novel. Both editor and contributor, Lanzendörfer compiles a collection of fourteen impressive short essays dealing with genre. The collection begins with an introduction by Lanzendörfer. Following the introduction, the essays are grouped into three sections according to different themes, all attesting to the significance of genre thinking for examining the poetics of the contemporary novel.
In the introduction, “The Generic Turn? Toward a Poetics of Genre in the Contemporary Novel,” Lanzendörfer weighs the extreme views of genre skeptics and genre champions, and then puts forward a more dialectical view of the contemporary literary landscape by claiming the contemporary novel is increasingly headed towards amalgamated forms combining traditional realist forms with the popular genres. He argues that genre fiction provides renewed vitality for literary fiction, and that “genre fiction itself becomes differently readable as engaging with many of the same concerns whose analysis is often understood to be reserved to literary fiction” (9). The central aim of this collection is thus put forward: to “understand genre as a salient aspect of contemporary literary production, and as a powerful tool for literary and cultural diagnosis” (3). By reference to many famous critics’ studies on genre, such as Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Jacques Derrida, Lanzendörfer evaluates and highlights genre’s cultural-diagnostic function, which makes his argument theoretically framed and more convincing.
The first section, “Genre at the End of Postmodernism,” includes five essays that analyze postmodernism’s vitality “through the lens of the particular poetic of genre prevalent today” (7). Philipp Löffler’s essay examines four texts, Toni Morrison’s novels Beloved and A Mercy along with Steven Spielberg’s films E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Saving Private Ryan, assessing how these texts employ the supernatural or the subjectivity of memory to explore the authenticity of historical experience or gauge the importance of the future by relying on “thematic and aesthetic elements that are very much at home in the contemporary genre world” (18). Lai-Tze Fan makes [End Page 565] the argument that “the millennial turn and the rise of digital culture have fostered a new genre of novels” (35). She then chooses two recent texts, Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts and Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, to elucidate how the writers “incorporate e-mails, instant messages, flipbooks, and concrete images into the text” (35) to intensify three aesthetic features of depthlessness, fragmentation, and hyperspace. Stephen Hock’s essay analyzes Colson Whitehead’s and Charles Yu’s postmodernist ironic engagement with detective fiction and science fiction, respectively, in The Intuitionist and How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by examining the metaphor of a box in both texts. Salwa Karoui-Elounelli approaches John Hawkes’s An Irish Eye and Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice from the perspective of self-reflective parody. She seeks to illustrate how these two postmodern novels play off some narrative forms, suggesting that “[n]arrative laterality in the poetics of the postmodern novel is thus a reinvention of the carnivalesque dimension of the genre” (92). Virginia Pignagnoli dissects Dave Eggers’s You Shall Know Our Velocity to exemplify twenty-first-century authors’ employment of strategies to achieve truthful and sincere communication in genre-blending narratives.