Literature, the view that literature is mimetic i.e. it

Literature,
like society has undergone various changes over a period of time. Many great
thinkers are of the view that literature is mimetic i.e. it imitates society
and reflects the nuances of culture. Literature is often viewed as a critical
measure to evaluate and trace the social and cultural development of a
particular society.

Human
beings have an innate tendency to categorize and compartmentalise all that they
come across.  This tendency too led to
the categorization of texts. Aristotle’s legacy of dividing text on the basis
of their textual content is what ruled the literary circles for ages to come.
Alistair Fowler, too differentiated between literature and the other kinds of
text in his book, Kinds of Literature.
Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian philosopher and literary critic, presented a novel
idea that utterance should be the basis of categorization of genres. Over the
years, genres have come to be understood in two ways i.e. similarity between
language and subject matter which will give rise to categories like poetry,
drama, novels, short story and non-fiction as a genre. The second understanding
of the term proceeds from the idea of analysing specific types of text within
broad categories of composition such as the novel, poetry, film or television.

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Genres
are a fluid entity. They are always in movement and in constant dialogue with
one another. They borrow from culture and inculcate various nuances of culture.
Genres, like literature cannot be considered in isolation as they are also
affected by social conditions and events. One of the most important events of
this century is the seeping of the internet in almost all areas of our lives.
Genres and literary forms too have been affected by this event.

One
of the ways of understanding and categorizing genres is also based on the
stylistic device of analysing the public’s reading habits. The onset of the
internet has greatly changed the reading habits of the existing population. The
fast paced lifestyle has led to a thinking in which the individual is eager to
get his hands on information and not knowledge. This idea of instant
gratification has greatly affected the public’s reading habits.

Traditionally,
the stigma of self publishing books was too overwhelming for the author to
overcome. However, the onset of internet has given rise to a lot of trends.
Firstly, the existence of various websites like fictionpress, wattpad, and many
others has allowed amateur authors to post their creative works for free.
Helpful readers provide feedback and many of these sites also boast of book
clubs that discuss these works in detail. The works written by these writers
and the reading habits of the audience has also transformed genre
categorization of that particular site. To explain this in detail, I will
analyse the transformation of the website, wattpad. A few years ago, the
categories were simply divided into fiction, non- fiction, poetry, classics,
paranormal and historical fiction. Over the years, they further divided these
categories into poetry, general fiction, mystery/thriller, paranormal and
surprisingly a separate category of vampire and werewolf fiction. Publishing and
reading habits are steadily linked as is visible from a famous example of the
Fifty Shades trilogy. Many perceive the series as degrading and detrimental to
literature but the global audience has enthusiastically gobbled the content.
The author, E.L James found inspiration to self publish the series after the
enthusiastic reader response she received from her online audience. Secondly,
the easy access to self publishing tools and the reader’s broad-minded attitude
towards trying out newer kinds of writing has also had an impact on redefining
genres and literary forms. In India, the Shiva
trilogy by Amish Tripathi, initially self published, reenergised the genre
in which myths were interpreted differently through fictional narratives. To
create curiosity and buzz about the book, he released a video on Youtube and
made the first chapter of the book freely downloadable to entice readers.
The Palace of Illusions
by award-winning novelist and poet Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a retelling of the Mahabharata from
Draupadi’s perspective. The large scale acceptance of these images by the
audience has led to redefining and reshaping a genre that already existed but
with a few tweaks and turns.

Another
genre that has evolved over time is that of short stories. A short story
contains all the traditional elements of dramatic structure like exposition,
complication, rising action, climax and resolution, but in a concentrated form.
The consensus of deciding the appropriate length of the short story has always
been a matter of debate. Edgar Allen Poe suggested that a short story’s length
must be such that one can read it in “one sitting.” This definition of “one
sitting” has obviously undergone many changes over the years. Now stories with
less than 1000 words are considered to be flash fiction. One of the first
authors to indulge in this genre was Ernest Hemingway who wrote a six word  story. It was,

“BABY SHOES:
FOR SALE, NEVER WORN.”

This
shorter than short story saw the light of the day in 1976 through a play called
Papa, a one man play about Hemingway written by John deGroot. The excitement
and fascination with the six word story died with the play. However, with the
emergence of the internet and the increasing number of people coming online,
the interest in flash fiction has revived. In 2006, Smith Magazine, an online
story-telling magazine launched a Six word Memoirs project asking readers to
participate in a contest and share their stories in six words. The publication
of the same received such an enthusiastic response that they published
subsequent versions of the same kind over the years.

In
fact in 2015, an online festival encouraged even established authors to
contribute their six word stories on twitter. Margaret Atwood, a noted author
and a well established literary figure contributed this:

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.

Flash fiction is an
off-shoot of the genre of short stories. They are both concentrated works of
art but while short stories elaborate on the plot points, works under flash
fiction are more interpretive in nature. It has slowly started gaining more
popularity because of the amount of time it takes to read a story. This goes
wonderfully in concert with the current population’s lack of prioritizing
reading as a hobby.

The reader’s reception has encouraged many websites and magazines
to launch this feature too. The oldest journal that focuses exclusively on
flash fiction, the semi-annual Vestal Review, also has a web presence. Other
online flash fiction journals include NANO Fiction (also print), Flash
Fiction Online and Flash Fiction Magazine.

Flash fiction has further
evolved to create Twitter stories. The internet influence on genres is more
readily seen with this innovation. Twitter stories refer to a concept in which
people on Twitter make short stories of or less than 140 characters. However,
this is no longer restricted to just Twitter. Amateur authors trying their hand
at these stories have also shaped this genre. A website called Terribly Tiny
Tales has received widespread recognition for promoting this genre. An example
of the same is:

“It was prostitution when

They sold her.

When they sold him,

Called it dowry.”

 

Several
websites and profiles on social media sites like onefortyfiction and a twitter
handle called Very Short Story have been created in response to the popularity
of this genre. Several reputed newspapers consistently launch festivals
inviting authors to publish their Twitter stories. The Guardian, a US based
newspaper launched a similar festival in 2012, inviting well known authors to
writes stories in 140 characters. An example:

“It’s
a miracle he survived,” said the doctor.

“It
was God’s will,” said Mrs Schicklgruber.

 “What will you call him?”

 “Adolf,” she replied.

-Jeffrey
Archer

 

The
acceptance and popularity of a genre also depends largely on readers. Todorov suggested
that authors write on the basis of a system already in place and readers read
in function of the generic system. However, with the explosion of the internet,
this cycle has become a two way street. A variety of factors like a fast paced
lifestyle, a decline in reading habits, and the internet explosion has paved
the roads for the popularity of this style. Rick Altman, a contemporary
theorist suggests that a cultural commodity such as a genre is “made” through
the action of readers who harbour expectations about it.

Every
Age is often characterised by the popularity of one form over the others. With
the way flash fiction has steadily started growing popular, it would not be
surprising if it surpasses all other genres in the coming years.

The
internet has also facilitated dissemination of information, bringing cultures
closer by promoting more understanding and interaction; this exchange of ideas
has widely enriched literature as a whole. Websites like Edx and Coursera offer
online courses for free for various subjects. The courses are run by respected
Professors and professionals from reputed universities like the University of
Pennsylvania, Stanford University, etc. The amazing feature about these online
courses is the level of interaction amongst the professors and the students.
The students share their assignments on the forum and the professors provide
their inputs on some of them.

This
system especially benefits literary courses because of the variety of the
participants. Every interpretation and analysis is based on one’s background
which essentially has a cultural basis. When so many people with different
backgrounds collaborate their efforts to read a text, the conclusions arrived
at are quite varied. It augments the experience of reading and analysing. For
example, an online class called Shakespeare in Community conducted by theatre
artists, professors from University of Wisconsin and Pedagogy professors
encouraged the students to analyse Shakespeare’s plays from the perspective of
not just a play but as if it was a part of our daily lives.

The
reasoning behind this particular exercise is that the way we receive the text
also makes a huge difference. The mode makes a difference in how we analyse and
categorize the text. For example, reading a play in solitude, reading a play
aloud and performing a play will all leave you with different meanings of the
text. Melissa Pereyra, an artist from the American Players Theatre provides an
interesting suggestion. She says that when one reads or perform the play, one
must pay attention to how the words feel in your throat and mouth. For example,
the word ‘greed’: when we speak it, our lips widen in a grin, and the same word
spoken by Richard II, a villain gives it a different meaning. He has to grin to
say it, which transforms his appearance and this further adds another shade to
the character.   

One
of the professors emphasizes that Shakespeare wrote his plays for the working
class. These people possessed a crude sense of humour, and it is for their sake
that the bawdy jokes find home in Shakespeare’s plays. He advises the students
to observe Shakespeare not just in texts but also in our surroundings. Bakhtin,
suggested that genres evolved from speech acts. Primary utterances refer to
those which happen during conversations which are then codified, altered,
absorbed and made more sophisticated when used in novels, official documents,
etc. These are called secondary utterances. This implies that the literary
genres evolve from non-literary acts.

Shakespeare’s
writings are relevant even today. His insight and knowledge about humanity has
continued to strike chords in all generations. By taking it a step further, the
class talks about incorporating Shakespeare in our daily life. By identifying
acts and instances Shakespeare has already written about, we can correspond it
with our surroundings. This can be viewed as a dispersion of the literary genre
in society. We will be travelling from the literary to the non-literary genre.
This helps us to prove that genres are always in movement and hence fluid.

The
internet is not only an innovation but also a means of innovating. Social
events of relevance have always had an impact on the literature of the age. The
internet is no different. It has affected literary genres and is in the process
of transforming genres. Hence, Todorov’s claim that genres are porous and
continuously in movement is proved by the above mentioned examples.