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Literature and Media Innovation: the question of genre transformations (LMI)

Research project P7/01 (Research action P7)

Persons :

  • Dr.  BAETENS Jan - Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U.Leuven)
    Coordinator of the project
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/10/2012-30/9/2017
  • Dr.  WATHEE-DELMOTTE Myriam - Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/10/2012-30/9/2017
  • Dr.  DELVILLE Michel - Université de Liège (ULG)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/10/2012-30/9/2017
  • Dr.  CALLENS Johan - Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/10/2012-30/9/2017
  • Dr.  MCHALE Brian - The Ohio State University (UNI-OSU)
    Financed foreign partner
    Duration: 1/10/2012-30/9/2017
  • Dr.  GERVAIS Bertrand - Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)
    Financed foreign partner
    Duration: 1/10/2012-30/9/2017

Description :


"Genre" is one of the oldest distinguished and most basic features of literature; whether the latter is understood as fiction or non-fiction, high or low brow, innovative or traditional writing, as the printed text or performed text, literary genres are everywhere. Countless publications for that reason conceptualize, study or use the notion of genre. Older discussions treat the taxonomy of genres as well as the nature of literary genres. For some, genres correspond to specific (yet essential) ways of using human discourse, while for others they can only be examined from a functionalist (i.e. relativist) perspective. Recently, the digital revolution has led to fundamental changes in literature. This in turn has led to a growing awareness of the importance of mediatization and the materialization of writing, publishing, and reading literature, which is now challenging scholars to rethink thoroughly the theory and practice of genre.

Objectives and Research Questions

At the forefront of recent developments in genre theory, the proposed research takes into account material, cultural, contextual and historical aspects of [late 19th- , 20th- and 21st century] literature, posing a series of new questions to explore the relation between genre formation and changes in media technology: 1) How are genres modified by the appearance of new media technologies and, conversely, how do changes in media technologies help produce new genres? 2) What role does literature play in the institutionalization of new media technologies (which often only "survive" if they prove capable of producing new and specific content)? 3) How does this new approach to genre transform our ideas and, more importantly, our ways of practicing (writing, reading, publishing, sharing) literature, and how does it affect and transform key aspects of the literary experience, such as the idea of fiction? 4) What is the status of the notion of literary genre in practices that are deeply shaped and influenced by media changes? 5) How should we revitalize the traditional notion of genre, not as a set of formal and thematic constraints but as a cultural practice that involves new relationships between production and reception in a media context strongly marked by a culture of hybridization?

More generally speaking, the research focuses on three types of questions:

1. genre and change: study of the principle of genre transformations;
2. genre and literature: study of the borders of literature (documentary versus literary, fictional versus non fictional, real versus fake, unmediated versus mediated, print versus non-print) and the impact on genre features, genre systems and genre theory;
3. genre and society: study of the cultural and social impact of the transformations (theories of author and reader, literary community, the teaching of literature, registers of value, feedback on the medium, blurring of boundaries between text and context, work and non-work)


A product of the core business of the various research centers gathered in the consortium, the proposed research answers the mentioned general questions via the detailed study of specific genres that have either emerged or dramatically evolved in the 20th century (we take as our starting point the rise of sound technology in the late 19th century and end with the digital revolution that started in the 1980s and continues up and until today). The chosen genres and the chosen media are representative of the major changes that have occurred (or are still occurring) in the literary field since the late 19th century, a period that introduces a new step in the fundamental process of the technological reproducibility of speech and text. The subprojects deal with the various domains of intermedial genre transformations, including the aural and the visual (moving and still images).


Given the complementary expertise and competences of the Belgian and foreign partners, the methodological framework of the project will be interdisciplinary and will combine two approaches, both in the contributions of each partner and in the joint reflection on media and literature.

The first axis is object-centered and focuses on various types of case studies : 1) specific modern genres such as the literary interview, the post-dramatic performance, the public literary speech, for instance), 2) general issues that are shared by a wide diversity of modern genres (including the critical use of fictionality, the technique of the loop as opposed to classic linearity and traditional closure, and the blurring of the boundaries between author and public). All of these genres and issues have in common their complex and hybrid media structure: literature here is no longer just a matter of print culture and texts, but entails other, non-print media (aural and/or visual), and this complexity and hybridization produces significant changes in the way literature is made, evaluated, stored, circulated, and experienced.

The second axis is theory-centered and redefines the discussion of genres and media in social terms: new forms of producing and receiving literature engender new experiences of fiction, new forms of literary communities, new forms of institutionalization. This allows for a better understanding of the transformations in modern and contemporary literature as textual and social practices. The combination of these two axes offers the most appropriate methodology to meet the objectives and to answer the research questions of the project.

More generally speaking, the methodologies used are the following ones:

1. Descriptive historical research. Most of the genres that we will research are strongly underrepresented in genre theory. The notion of "literary posture" and "rite" will be crucial factors in the description of the author-reader exchanges.
2. Semiotic and rhetorical analysis. Here, the notions of genre recognition and genre competence. This approach will frame genre theory in terms of "genericity" ("généricité"), which enables a less taxonomic and more pragmatic study of genre features and genre systems.
3. Intermedial/performative analysis. By stressing the multimodal, contextual and dynamic aspects of genre, we strongly focus on the integration with the social context and impact of literature, while opening the research to other emerging fields such as of the iconography of the writer.

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