Where once there was one, English now bears two. Gender and genre come from Latin root gen, signifying “birth” and “race,” “kind” and “sort.” Romance languages, however, tend to retain a single term: genre, genere, género, gênero, the French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese tell us. What can we make of these words, whose very root seems to describe the birth of another kind?
Gender and genre have been understood as practices of classifying persons and texts, respectively. But we know the story is not so simple; in fact, we know that even presenting it as simple has sociopolitical consequences. In what ways do gender and genre negotiate, construct, and transgress taxonomic boundaries? How are these boundaries justified or complicated by their exceptions? Indeed, gender and genre themselves are terms that constantly exceed the very rules that seem to define them. How have these terms traversed time and place, and how do these terms, which negotiate conceptual borders, travel across geopolitical ones?
In this class, we’ll embark on an exploration of gender and genre, as we travel across borders and centuries, at once constructing and deconstructing taxonomic implications. We’ll tackle how poems and plays, novels, films, and advertisements both use and abuse, thematize and problematize generic and gendered language. And as we investigate the words we read, so too will we scrutinize the words we write. We’ll explore the many choices, both simple and sophisticated, that go into communicating interpretations of a text to a reader.
As a Reading & Composition course, sustained critical engagement with the process of writing will guide our intellectual exploration of gender and genre. A series of writing activities will help us conceptualize how writing is fundamentally social: a tool with agency to engage in conversation, as well as a mode of expression, experience, and action. As a class community, we’ll work toward developing ties between practices of close reading and writing.
Texts may include:
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (Folger Shakespeare Library Edition)
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau (Alma Books Special Edition)
A course reader will likely contain selections from Jorge Luis Borges’ Collected Fictions, Franz Kafka’s Parables and Paradoxes, David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, Sarah Schulman Girls, Visions, and Everything, Clarice Lispector’s Family Ties, and Irmtraud Morgner’s Kaffee Verkehrt; with poetry by Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Emily Dickinson, Christopher Smart, John Ashbery, and César Vallejo; films directed by Pedro Almodóvar and Juliusz Machulski; selections of critical texts and essays by Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, Stanley Fish, George Orwell, George Lakoff, Susan Howe, and bell hooks; and readings on writing from Writing Analytically.