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Intertextuality versus Genre Theory: Bakhtin, Kristeva and the Question of Genre

Author(s): DAVID DUFF

Source: Paragraph, Vol. 25, No. 1, GIORGIO AGAMBEN (March 2002), pp. 54-73
Published by: Edinburgh University Press
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Intertextuality versus Genre Theory:

Bakhtin, Kristeva and the Question

of Genre

Now more than thirty years old, the term intertextuality seems
permanently suspended between opposed meanings and uses. For
many, it has come to serve as an umbrella word for any critical
procedure or creative practice involving a relation between two or
more texts. Others tryto limit its application to the radical theory of
textualitythat the term was originally devised to express. The factthat
the inventor of the term,Julia Kristeva, has objected to what she sees
as the dispersal and devaluation of its meaning, and even sought at
one point to replace it with the term 'transposition', has done little to
dampen the enthusiasm either of puristskeen to preserve her original
formulation or of the many others who use the word in a looser sense.
As the number of books and articles laying claim to 'intertextual'
methods or subject-matter continues to rise, fewer and fewer critics
seem willing to address the theoretical problems which surround this
seductively versatile concept.2
One such problem is its relationship with the concept of genre.
It is often assumed that genre is simply one aspect of the larger
phenomenon of intertextualitywhose other manifestations include
more localized forms of allusion, quotation and influence. Although
certain theorists, notably Gerard Genette, make a point of differ-
entiating generic affiliationsor conventions from the interrelations
between individual texts (in Genette's case, by reserving the term
'intertextuality' for the latter, as distinct from what he terms the
'architextuality' of genre),3 most definitions of 'intertextuality'in the
standard glossaries of literary and cultural theory list 'genre' as one
of its constitutive elements, and invoke 'intertextuality'as part of the
corresponding definition of 'genre'.
The apparent ease with which these two concepts are assimilated
with or defined in termsof one another belies, however, the theoretical
tensions between them, and conceals too the historical fact that the
development of the theory of intertextualityowes its success partly
to its circumvention of the problems traditionallyassociated with the
concept of genre. This is true in Kristeva's case, where the concept

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Intertextuality GenreTheory: Kristeva
Bakhtin, andtheQuestion
ofGenre 55
of genre, though not abandoned entirely, is assigned a much more
marginal and qualified position than it occupies in the writings of
Mikhail Bakhtin on which her theory of intertextualityis largely
based. Among other intertextual theorists, the displacement of the
problematic of genre is stillmore overt and deliberate. Roland Barthes,
for example, calls 'the inter-text' an inherently 'polemical' concept
that 'serves to counter the Law of context' and 'does not recognize any
division of genre'. 4 Though some theoristshave sought to modify and
moderate these claims, the basic tension between the two concepts
remains, and, despite superficial appearances, genre theory and the
theory of intertextualitygenerally pull in opposite directions.
While a full rapprochement seems unlikely and probably undesirable,
a better understanding of the tensions between the two concepts may
help not only to clarifythe evolution of these terms and some of the
theoretical problems that surround them, but also suggest new ways in
which theories of genre and intertextualitycan illuminate and enrich
one another. It is to pursue these twin aims - one retrospective,
the other speculative - that the following remarks are intended. I
begin by retracing the origins of the theory of intertextuality in
Kristeva's reading of Bakhtin, and assess the implications of Kristeva's
reformulation of Bakhtin's 'sociological poetics' - specifically, his
- in termsof French structuralistsemiotics.
conceptualization of genre
Some attention is also paid to Bakhtin's own debt to Russian Formalist
work on genre, a debt partly obscured by his trenchant critique
of the Formalists and hence often underestimated by his Western
commentators (though not by Kristeva herself, who rehearses and
extends Bakhtin's critique of Russian Formalism). In comparing
Bakhtin and Kristeva, I endeavour to show how a reworking of
the problematic of genre towards what was eventually christened
'intertextuality' involved loss as well as gain, a focusing of one set
of issues at the cost of a blurring of another. I conclude with some
brief suggestions about how some of those losses may be reversed:
by a renewed attention within intertextualitytheory to questions of
genre which have been prematurely closed, and by a more attentive
engagement on the part of genre theoriststo the insightsand challenges
of intertextualitytheory.
Whatever conclusions might ultimatelybe drawn about the compat-
ibility or otherwise of the two concepts, nothing could be greater
than the contrastbetween the excitement and enthusiasm that greeted
the theory of intertextualitywhen it firstemerged in the late 1960s
and the suspicion and hostilitythen surrounding the concept of genre.

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While Kristeva's neologism rapidly established itselfas an intellectual
buzzword, the term 'genre' carried a decidedly negative charge, a set of
associations encapsulating everythingthatwas at odds with avant-garde
literarytheory: conformity,predictability,standardization, the inertia
of tradition. To a generation in revolt against established authority
of all kinds, the idea of genre seemed suspect almost by definition,
insofar as it rested on notions of 'convention' and 'decorum', and
appeared to uphold the power of precedent. More reactionary even
than the traditional notion of the 'author' which that generation of
critics also sought to destroy, the concept of genre was regarded by
many as a repressive mechanism by which cultural institutionssought
to classify,commodify and control artisticproduction.
Nowhere is this suspicion more forcibly demonstrated than in
Jacques Derrida's well-known essay of 1979, 'The Law of Genre',
which gives voice to, in order to contradict, the authoritarianimpera-
tives which he sees as constitutive of the phenomenon of genre:

As soon as the word genreis sounded,as soon as it is heard,as soon as one

attemptsto conceiveit,a limitis drawn.And when a limitis established,
and interdictions
are not farbehind:'Do', 'Do not',says'genre',thewordgenre,
thefigure,thevoice, or thelaw of genre.5

For all the urgency and panache of Derrida's critique, however, such
perceptions were by no means new. The comprehensive rejection
of genre theory argued in Derrida's essay begins not with Maurice
Blanchot, whose subversion of generic protocol provides Derrida's
nominal point of departure, nor with Benedetto Croce, the Italian
philosopher who, in 1900, dismissed the whole concept of genre as a
classical 'superstition' that concealed the true nature of the aesthetic.6
Croce's uncompromising remarks set the tone for much subsequent
debate on genre and contributed to the anti-generic prejudice that is
part of what Fredric Jameson calls the ideology of Modernism,7 but
the artisticlogic they propound derives ultimately from the aesthetic
theory of Romanticism, a poetics to which Modernism was in other
respects violently opposed.
Romantic attitudes to genre are complex and in some respects
contradictory, but it was Friedrich Schlegel who first proclaimed
what many might now take for granted, that 'every poem is a genre
in itself {Jedes Gedicht eine Gattungfür sich),s and who denounced
traditional genre distinctions- in effect,the whole Aristotelian and
Alexandrian genre-system- for being 'as primitive and childish as
the old pre-Copernican ideas of astronomy'.9 The search for a new

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Intertextuality GenreTheory: Kristeva
Bakhtin, andtheQuestion
ofGenre 57
theory of genres to replace the discredited classical system, and the
still more radical proposal - hinted at by Schlegel and carried further
by others that it was possible to dispense altogether with the notion
of genre, became central platformsof the European Romantic move-
ment, establishing attitudes to genre that continued to reverberate
throughout the twentieth century. Derrida could hardly be described
as an apologist forRomanticism, but his dialectical exposéof the flawed
logic of genre theory is, at one level, a poststructuralistrestaging of
a traditional Romantic resistance to genre - hence something of a
'genre scene' in itself.
One of the salient attractions of the theory of intertextuality,
as I have already intimated, is that it appeared to offer a solution
to the problem of genre, or at least a way of circumventing it.
Reconceived in terms of 'intertextuality',genre could shed its auth-
oritarian connotations, remove the taint of prescriptiveness, and rid
itselfof its traditional role as arbiter or policeman of the writing and
reading process. Within this new theoretical matrix, generic norms
and conventions became just one of the threads that bind texts to one
another, their coercive, restrictiveforce dispersed by the many other
forms of intertextualitywith which they coexist. Instead of generic
decorum, intertextuality promised an erotics of the text, whose
most adept interpreterwas Barthes, and for which the antinomian
motto - supplied by Barthes - was the Biblical quotation: 'my name
is Legion: for we are many'.10 So potent was this new rhetoric
of textual freedom and multiplicity that even so cautious a critic
as Geoffrey Hartman could claim, in his Preface to Deconstruction
and Criticism(1979), that 'Everything we thought of as spirit, or
meaning separable from the letter of the text, remains within the
"intertextual" sphere'.11 The 'aura', the 'soul', the 'spirit' of verbal
art,all those metaphorical gestureswhich convey the elusive power of
literature,resolved, for Hartman and others, into the master-concept
of intertextuality.In such circumstances, the law of genre was not
so much annulled as transcended, and Derrida's deconstruction of
its anachronistic authority may already have been in some respects
If we return, however, to the foundational moment of intertex-
tuality theory, the early writings of Kristeva, we find a much more
ambivalent assessment of the role and status of genre. The nature and
extent of that ambivalence can best be explained by comparing her
ideas with those of Bakhtin, from whose work she 'deduced' (as she
later put it) the concept of intertextualityto which, reinterpretedand

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modified, her own writings were to give such explosive currency.
Kristeva's impatience with conventional notions of genre, and with
the modes of criticism and literary history associated with them, is
apparent fromthe start.Her early essays call openly fora new 'typology
of texts' to replace 'the rhetorical division of genres';12 for an enlarge-
ment of that typology to embrace all types of discourse, not only
literary;for a transferof attention from the formal properties of genres
to the 'signifyingpractices' that sustain and distinguish them; for a
history of such signifyingpractices and their cultural preconditions;
and foran expanded awareness of the manifold ways in which textsare
bound to and bounded by their social and ideological environment,
itself conceived as textual (the 'social text', the 'historical text', the
'ideologeme'). The concept of intertextualityis central to this revi-
sionist programme since it is inherent in Kristeva's basic conception of
a text as an 'intersection of textual surfaces', 'a mosaic of quotations',
the 'absorption and transformationof another [text]'.13
In many respects, Kristeva's programme is a direct continuation of
Bakhtin's, and some of the essaysin which she maps out these tasksand
introduces the concept of intertextualityare explicit commentaries on
the work of Bakhtin, a figure then virtuallyunknown in the West. In
calling for a new typology of texts to replace the traditional system of
genres, Kristeva is reiteratinga major theme of Bakhtin's work, much
of which consists of exactly this: the redefinition of traditionalliterary
categories and the construction of new textual classificationsembracing
literaryand non-literary types, both oral and written. The search for
new demarcations, and for a new literaryhistoryor 'historical poetics'
thatwould make sense of them, was partlydriven by Bakhtin's interest
in the development of the novel, a genre whose hybrid character and
evolutionary success had, in his view, rendered obsolete the entire
edifice of classical and neoclassical genre theory, based as it was on
what he saw as the antithetical genres of poetry and drama.
In part, though, the rationale of Bakhtin's enterprisewas linguistic,
and again Kristeva follows Bakhtin in seeking to ground her new
theory of literature on a theory of language. Indeed, the most
valuable parts of her commentaries on Bakhtin are precisely those
in which she calls attention to its linguistic base, and emphasizes
the revolutionary quality of Bakhtin's 'metalinguistics' (his term, for
which she substitutes 'translinguistics'). The central premiss of this
new linguistics- that it is to study the 'word', in its broadest sense, as
'a territoryin which instances of discourse confront each other'14- is
directly incorporated into Kristeva's notion of intertextuality,which

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Intertextuality GenreTheory: Bakhtin,Kristeva
andtheQuestion ofGenre 59
synthesizes a number of key Bakhtinian concepts dialogism,
- and becomes in turn an
heteroglossia, polyglossia, polyphony
organizing principle of her own 'revolutionary semiotics'.15 Her
claim that dialogism 'is inherent in language' ('Word', p. 68) - that
Bakhtin's concept is, in the first instance, a postulate about the
condition of language itself(as are the related concepts of heteroglossia
and polyglossia) - applies equally to her concept of intertextuality,
though many have ignored its linguistic basis.
The ideological impetus of intertextualitytheory, at least in its
earliest stages, also reflects its Bakhtinian origins. By foregrounding
Bakhtin's notion of the 'ideologeme',16 and arguing that the value
of translinguisticprocedures lies partly in their capacity to uncover
the ideological underpinnings of seemingly autonomous textual struc-
tures,Kristeva underlines the political dimension of Bakhtin's project:
its aspiration to be not just an 'historical' but also a 'sociologi-
cal poetics' - a 'branch of the study of ideologies', as Bakhtin/
Medvedev at one point describe it (Formal Method, p. 3). Kristeva's
brand of intertextual critique, however, draws most of its inspiration
not from Bakhtin's avowedly Marxist early writings, but from other
and later works, in particular his Dostoevsky and Rabelais books.
Here, the emphasis falls on the ways in which certain types of litera-
ture disrupt and subvert ideology, an emphasis retained in Kristeva's
definition of the polyphonic text as 'an apparatus for exposing and
exhausting (. . .) ideologies' and in her conceptualization of the 'inter-
textual space' of literature as an arena of ideological confrontation
('Ruin', p. 114).
The value and interest of the theory of intertextuality,though, lie
notjust in its crystallizationof certain organizing principles in Bakhtin's
work, but also in Kristeva's own highly original extension of these
ideas. Asked in an interview in 1985 to clarifythe distinction between
her notion of intertextualityand Bakhtin's dialogism, Kristeva points
first to the recognition, in intertextualitytheory, of the syntactic
and phonic levels at which texts intersect and combine; dialogic
- with
theory, she claims, is concerned only with the semantic level
meaning. Secondly, she explains how attention to the linguistic and
formal aspects of intertextualityled her to an interestin the 'particular
mental activity' involved, on the part of both writers and reader, and
hence to a psychoanalytic understanding of intertextualityfocused on
what she terms the 'subject-in-process'.
In her audacious analysis of the signifying process, these two
- textual structuration and the formation of the creative

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- combine to
subject yield two of her most influential hypotheses:
(1) the distinction between 'semiotic' and 'symbolic', pivotal concepts
in both her psychobiological theory of significationand her account of
the role of language in identity-formation;and (2) the related propo-
sition about the existence of two complementary text-generating
principles that she designates 'genotexť and 'phenotext', the latter
indicating textual structureas realized as the surface level of language,
and 'genotexť the deeper organizational processes - including the
pre-linguistic,instinctualdrives Kristeva terms 'semiotic' as well as the
'matrices of enunciation' associated with 'symbolic' systems such as
- that underlie and
genre open into the phenotext.18 Besides being
possibly her most original and suggestive contribution to semiotics,
the phenotext/genotext distinction can be seen as a culmination of
her quest for new typology of texts: a culmination found not, as her
earlier remarks might lead us to expect, in the creation of a new
taxonomy of genres or signifyingpractices, but, more radically, in the
splittingof the concept of text itselfinto two fundamental elements,
varying combinations of which generate differenttypes of text.
Such theoretical advances, however, are achieved at a cost. Though
faithful to basic tenets of dialogic theory,19 Kristeva's reading of
Bakhtin also introduces a number of distortions. Her transposition of
his distinctive idiolect into the metalanguage of French structuralist
semiotics, while it undoubtedly clarified certain concepts and opened
up new lines of inquiry, simultaneously blurred other concepts and
closed important avenues of research. The deficit is particularlyacute
in the area of genre theory,where Kristeva's reformulationsfrequently
entail what Bakhtin himself would call a 'lowering of the level of
problematics' and 'an impoverishment of the object under study'.20
To appreciate this,we need to pursue furtherthe comparison between
dialogism and intertextuality,and reflect too on some of the earlier
theoriststo whom Bakhtin himself was responding in developing his
theory of genres.
Some of the limitations of the theory of intertextuality stem,
paradoxically, from the structuralistconcept of text that made possible
so many of Kristeva's insights and discoveries - like those of other
intertextual theorists. The root of the problem lies in the very
inclusiveness of the concept, which at times threatens not only to
encompass but to dissolve the categories around which Bakhtin's
work is organized. Barthes famous essay of 1971 proclaimed the
replacement of the notion of the literary'work' with that of the 'text';
Kristeva's reading of Bakhtin effectsa more complete transposition of

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Intertextuality GenreTheory: Kristeva
Bakhtin, andtheQuestion
ofGenre 61
termsin which 'discourses' become 'textual practices', genres become
'textual arrangements', 'utterances' become 'textual functions', and
the category of 'voice' disappears altogether ('Bounded', pp. 36-7).
For Bakhtin, however, these concepts are not simply heuristic devices
to be retained or dispensed with at will: they are complex, irreducible
entitiesdeserving of and able to withstand philosophical scrutiny.That
he believed this can be inferredfrom his work as a whole - which,
at one level, is a continuous meditation on these phenomena, and a
revival of the tradition of philosophical genre theory inaugurated by
Herder, Goethe and the German Romantics - and is made explicit
in his late essay 'The Problem of the Text', which contains Bakhtin's
own tentative proposals for a comprehensive 'textology' or theory of
the text.
Like many of Bakhtin's writings, this essay (written between 1959
and 1961, published posthumously in 1979) was left unfinished, and
seems to be a preliminary brainstorming of the idea rather then a
fully worked-out argument. But it contains many interesting ideas
and makes for an intriguingcomparison with the structuralisttheories
of the text developed several years later (independently of this essay,
though partly in response to earlier, published writings by Bakhtin)
by Kristeva, Barthes and others. Unlike Kristeva, Bakhtin confines
his theory to verbaltexts and text-based disciplines, the essay being,
in part, a contribution to a methodology of the human sciences (to
which much of his late work is devoted), but he gives full weight
to his theory of dialogism, reformulating it, as Kristeva does, in
'textual' terms, while also trying to balance the notion of the text's
uniqueness with that of its interconnectedness with other texts 'the
two poles of the text', as he calls them.21 Even as he probes the
concept of text, however, testing how far the idea can be taken
and what fresh insights it can generate, he keeps returning to the
question of genre,22 just as he keeps in play the notions of 'author',
- each of which attracts
'creativity', 'intention', 'utterance', 'voice'
philosophical attention in its own right,and all of which contribute to
his conceptualization of 'text'. A concept of text that does not respect
these distinctions and subcategories would run the risk, for Bakhtin,
of falsifyingits object and repeating the mistake of Saussure, whose
langue-paroleopposition ignores the subsystemsof language or typesof
utterance which Bakhtin terms 'speech genres'. These, as he explains
elsewhere, are a precondition for meaningful communication, since
they 'organize our speech in almost the same way as grammatical
(syntactical) forms do'; and they are also the key to the historyof

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communication, being, as he puts it, 'the drive belts from the history
of society to the historyof language'.23
Attempts to understand this connection, to account for the role
of genre in the everyday life of language and in language-change,
and to build up an inventory of speech genres, recur throughout
Bakhtin's work. Study of the 'forms and types of verbal interaction'
under specific social and historical conditions is central to the linguistic
programme outlined in Voloshinov/Bakhtin's Marxism and thePhilos-
ophy of Language (1929), whose proposals for a Marxist semiotics are
predicated on the idea that each period and each social group 'has
its own repertoire of speech forms for ideological communication'.24
The existence of socially and historically distinct speech genres, each
with its 'specific points of view, specific approaches, formsof thinking,
nuances and accents characteristicof the given genre', is also integral
to Bakhtin's notion of heteroglossia, which visualizes such genres as
one of the key elements or strataof any given language.25 A similar
premiss informshis theory of literature,much of his work on literary
genres, notably the novel, being concerned with the relationship
between what he calls 'primary' and 'secondary genres'.26 The former
include both speech genres in all their diversity(for instance greetings,
rejoinders, declamations, sermons, anecdotes, oaths, jokes, curses) and
also the equally huge array of written genres that fall outside the
officialhierarchy of genres (such as letters,diaries, newsbooks, tracts,
pamphlets, chapbooks, penny dreadfuls and other forms of popular
literature). The latter are the more complex literary and scientific
genres that are formed, in many cases, though an assimilation and
transformationof the former. The force and originality of Bakhtin's
readings of Dostoevsky, Rabelais, Goethe and others consist as much
in Bakhtin's mapping of this vast hinterland of oral and subliterary
genres as in his analysis of the complex uses to which these writers
put them. What fascinates Bakhtin about the novel in particular as a
secondary genre is that it is uniquely receptive to other genres, able to
assimilate other formsof writing and speech to an exceptional degree.
In the same way, the writerswho most interestedBakhtin are precisely
those who delved deepest into the stratumof primarygenres, the role
of the great artistbeing to 'awaken the semantic possibilities' that lie
within them.27
Intertextualitytheory is not blind to this dialectic of primary and
secondary, though as yet it has had little use for the concept of speech
genres. Kristeva is at pains to stress that intertextualityis not simply
an operation performed on and by individual texts, but one that

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Intertextuality GenreTheory: Kristeva
Bakhtin, andtheQuestion
ofGenre 63
can involve 'the transposition of one (or several) sign system(s) into
another' ( Revolution, pp. 59-60). A genre is one such sign system, so
that the notion of intertextualitycan be said to embrace the process of
genre-formation as described by Bakhtin, and to incorporate too the
ad hoc genre-mixing and discourse-mixing performed by a particular
text. Both processes figure, for instance, in Kristeva's analysis of
Antoine de la Sale's Jehan de Saintré, a proto-novel of the late Middle
Ages whose intertextual character and place in literary history she
explores partly through notions of genre and discourse.28 Kristeva's
real interesthere, however, is in what this text reveals about an even
deeper shiftin the semiotic practice of Western culture, the transition
from an aesthetic of the symbol to that of the sign. Transformations
of genre are subordinate to this more fundamental change, and the
particularcharacteristicsof the genres thatJehan de Saintréincorporates
and modifies are not analysed in any detail - as they are, say, in
Bakhtin's account of the generic sources of Rabelais's Gargantua
and Pantagruel.29 Instead, Kristeva's argument relies on the more
inclusive but abstract concepts of 'social text' and 'historical text',
terms which extend even further the range of possible ideological
sources or 'intertexts' but fail to convey the specific forms in which
such ideology exists (always an issue for Bakhtin) or the mechanisms
by which they interact with the forms of literature.30
If this limits the effectivenessof intertextual analysis as a tool for
ideological critique, it also simplifies the complex modelling of the
relationshipbetween literatureand historywhich is one of the defining
featuresof Bakhtin's theory of genres. According to Kristeva, what is
revolutionary about the dialogic method, and what reveals Bakhtin as
a precursor of structuralistsemiotics, is his adoption of an essentially
synchronic approach. She writes:

By introducing thestatusofthewordas a minimalstructuralunit,Bakhtinsituates

the textwithinhistoryand society,which are then seen as textsread by the
writer,and intowhichhe inserts himselfby rewritingthem.Diachronyis turned
into synchrony, and in lightof thistransformation,
linearhistoryappearsas an
abstraction.('Word', p. 65)

The concept of intertextuality completes this transformation by

treating the whole of literary history, and history itself, as a text
or system in which every part has a potentially infinite number of
relations with other parts. The individual text becomes a 'space' in
which other texts intersect, and the axis of time tends to disap-
pear altogether. Bakhtin himself argues, however, that intertextual

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relationships are always mediated by genres, entities that cannot be
reduced to either mere synchrony or diachrony, as the following
passage from Problemsin Dostoevsky'sPoeticsmakes clear:
A literary genre,by itsverynature,reflects the moststable,'eternal'tendencies
in literature'sdevelopment.Alwayspreservedin a genreare undyingelements
of the archaic. True, thesearchaicelementsare preservedin it only thanksto
theirconstantrenewal , whichis to say,theircontemporizaron. A genreis always
the same and yet not the same, alwaysold and new simultaneously. Genre is
rebornand renewedat everystagein thedevelopmentof literature and in every
individualwork of a givengenre.This constitutes the lifeof the genre.(...) A
genre livesin the but
present, always remembers
itspast,itsbeginning.Genreis a
representative of creative
memory in the of
process literary development.31

The 'word' may be the minimum structuralunit for Bakhtin, but by

focusing here on the higher structurallevel of genre he reveals a much
more subtle dialectic between literatureand history,tradition and the
individual text. To conceive of a genre in purely synchronic terms- as
a category that that is ever-present, transcending time - is to ignore
its evolutionary aspect, and the layers of 'pastness' that it carries
within it. This was the mistake of classical genre theory. It is equally
mistaken, though, to conceive of it in purely diachronic terms- as a
mere historical product, entirelysubject to temporal change - in the
way that a strictlymaterialist account of literaryhistory might urge.
Bakhtin's contention is that a genre can only be understood as both
historical and transhistorical,archaic and renewable, time-bound and
able to transcend time - not by lying outside it but by accumulating
acrosstime (living in the present but 'remembering' its past).
The paradoxes involved here resurfaceelsewhere in Bakhtin's work,
and indeed many of his most fertileideas result from his reflectionson
the phenomenon of time: the distinction between 'remote contexts'
and 'near contexts',32 the idea of 'great time' versus 'small time',33
the concept of 'chronotope' (another key element in his theory of
genre)34 and, here, of 'creative memory' (or 'genre memory', as it
might more accurately be called).35 Most of these nuances are lost in
Kristeva's reworking of Bakhtin, some because they were not present
in the published writingsto which she was responding, others because
they are basically at odds with the premisses of intertextualitytheory.
Perhaps the most serious loss, though, is the erosion of what
might be called the differentialprinciple in Bakhtin's theory of
genres: his insistence on the discontinuities and tensions between
literarygenres, and in particular the antithetical relationship between

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Bakhtin, andtheQuestion
ofGenre 65
novelistic and poetic genres. The most sustained expression of this
principle is in the four essays of the 1930s and early 1940s collected
in English as The Dialogic Imagination.Here Bakhtin makes a series
of what can only be described as spectacularly invidious comparisons
between the dynamic, democratic, creative, open-ended and life-
giving properties of the novel and the static,aristocratic,inflexible and
moribund characteristicsof poetic genres. Studying the latter,he says,
'is analogous to studying dead languages', whereas studying the novel
is 'like studyinglanguages that are not only alive, but stillyoung'.36
Bakhtin's 'almost messianic view of the novel as a literaryform', as
David Lodge aptly described it,37 is not simply a matter of personal
bias, however, but the logical conclusion of his own theory of
dialogism as well as an extension of the theories of literaryhistoryhe
encountered in some of his predecessors. As Tzvetan Todorov and
othershave pointed out, his comparison between epic and novel - the
subject of the first essay in The Dialogic Imagination takes as its
(unacknowledged) point of departure Goethe's famous essay on 'Epic
and Dramatic Poetry' (1797), whose arguments he cleverly adapts
to his own generic comparison. More important still is his debt
(also largely unacknowledged) to the German Romantics, Friedrich
- its
Schlegel in particular: many of Bakhtin's ideas about the novel
unique place among literarygenres, its essential open-endedness and
modernity, the concept of novelization (the way in which the novel
dominates and colours neighbouring genres) - expand on hints in
Schlegel's CriticalFragmentsand elsewhere, and on the systematization
of Romantic genre theory in the historical aesthetics of Hegel.38
In his reworking of these arguments, Bakhtin is responding too to
the work of Lukács, whose 'historio-philosophical' analysis of literary
forms (notably his Theoryof the Novel, a book Bakhtin actually began
translatingin the 1920s) continues the inquiry of Hegel and leaves a
permanent mark on Bakhtin's writing.39 It was probably the reading
of Lukács that crystallized for Bakhtin the idea of literary genres as
ways of 'seeing and conceptualizing reality',40the evolving patternsof
which are linked to broader shiftsin social and historical consciousness.
Bakhtin's thinking about generic difference and change was also
crucially influenced by Russian Formalism, notwithstanding his
frequent criticisms of Formalist methodology and his cultivation
of a 'sociological' approach which he defined polemically against
Formalism. While denying that Russian Formalism has adequate
conception of literary history, Bakhtin in fact incorporates directly
the theory of literary evolution that is one of Formalism's most

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66 Paragraph
distinctive achievements. Like Bakhtin's theory of genres, this is
predicated on the idea of genres as dynamic rather than static entities,
subject to perpetual transformationand to a dialectic of 'archaism
and innovation' - as in the title of Tynyanov's book Archaistsand
Innovators(1929). Russian Formalism is Bakhtin's source too for the
notion of a hierarchy of genres which is variable rather than fixed,
and for the quasi-Darwinian explanation of literary evolution as a
competitive process in which genres and schools strugglefor survival,
vie with one another for a position of dominance, and create new
genres through the transformationand assimilation of existing genres.
Viktor Shklovsky was the first to hint at this with his claim that
literaryevolution is discontinuous, the legacy being transmitted'not
from fatherto son but from uncle to nephew'41 (an idea encapsulated
in his metaphor of the knight's move). Boris Eikhenbaum and Yury
Tynyanov develop the argument,43 which Bakhtin then appropriates
wholesale, applying it in a brilliantlysustained way to the case of the
novel. In Bakhtin's analysis, the ascendancy of the novel becomes
the ultimate example of what Shklovsky calls the 'canonization
of the junior branch'44 - the minor genre made good - and the
concomitant process of 'novelization' the ultimate illustrationof one
genre's transformativeinfluence over other genres.45
Bakhtin's valorization of the novel is also a logical extension of
his own theory of language. As we have seen, what makes the novel
unique for Bakhtin is its extreme receptivity to other genres, its
ability to absorb other forms of writing and speech to an exceptional
degree. As well as explaining its evolutionary success, this property
gives the novel a special relationship with language itself,to whose
basic condition of heteroglossia and dialogism the novel is uniquely
attuned. Hence Bakhtin's claim that the 'development of the novel is
a function of the deepening of dialogic essence' ('Discourse', p. 300).
The poetic genres, on other hand, resist the basic condition of
language: 'the natural dialogism of the word is not put to artistic
use', since 'the poet strips the word of others' intentions', using
'only such words and forms (and only in such a way) that they
lose their link with concrete intentional levels of language and their
connection with specific contexts' ('Discourse', p. 297). His technical
term for this is monologism; his inspired metaphor for it is the classical
myth of the river of Lethe: 'Everything that enters the work [of
poetry] must immerse itself in Lethe, and forget its previous life in
any other contexts: language may remember only its life in poetic
contexts' (ibid.). Here the principle of generic polarization finds its

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Intertextuality GenreTheory: Kristeva
Bakhtin, andtheQuestion
ofGenre 67
most uncompromising expression, as Bakhtin denies to poetry the
linguistic property that is the novel's raison d'etre and Bakhtin's main
criterion of literaryworth.
Though such judgements are questionable, they demonstrate very
forcibly the differentiallogic that is at the heart of Bakhtin's theory
of genres.46 Kristeva does not adopt this logic. In her earliest writings
on Bakhtin she toys with his distinction between 'epic monologism'
and novelistic dialogism, but her major statement of intertextuality
theory,Revolutionin PoeticLanguage (1974), abandons such distinctions
and delimits intertextualityhistoricallyrather than generically, dating
its emergence as a fully developed aesthetic not from the advent of
the novel but from the literaryrevolution associated with Mallarmé,
Lautréamont and the nineteenth-century French avant-garde. Later
she enlarges the concept further,describing intertextualityas 'perhaps
the most global concept possible for signifyingthe modern experience
of writing, including the classic genres, poetic and novelistic'; and
adding that, if we accept the terms of intertextuality,'perhaps we will
be, as it were, freed from our obsessive appeal to genre' (Interviews ,
p. 192).
For Kristeva as for Barthes, then, intertextualitytheory is ulti-
mately inimical to the concept of genre, despite the common ground
between Bakhtin and Kristeva, and the origins of key elements of
intertextualitytheory in a theory of genres. Though intertextuality
claimed, in its more confident moments in the late 60s and early 70s,
to have superseded and replaced the idea of genre, I have argued
that this displacement involved loss as well as gain, and that produc-
tive lines of inquiry opened by Bakhtin and the Russian Formalists
were prematurely closed by the success of intertextualitytheory. In
many respects, the situation is now different.Thanks in part to the
pioneering effortsof Kristeva and Todorov, Bakhtin's work is now
widely known, and subsequent readings based on a more complete
knowledge of his writings have sought to correct whatever distor-
tion may have occurred in the original, structuralistinterpretation
of his ideas. Bakhtin's relation to earlier theorists, notably those of
German Romanticism and Russian Formalism, is also better under-
stood, though there is still a tendency artificiallyto separate his theory
of the novel from his broader theory of genres. And genre studies in
general,partlythrough Bakhtin's influence, have undergone a notable
revival, not only in the traditional field of literature but also in film
and media studies, linguistics, religious studies, education and other

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68 Paragraph

disciplines.47 The word 'genre' itself now carries mainly positive

ratherthan negative associations.
Intertextualitytheory has not stood still either, and there have been
some valuable attempts to integrate notions of intertextualitywith
those of genre: the work of Genette, Laurent Jenny and Jean-Marie
Schaeffer,for example.48 One can conceive, though, of furtherfruitful
dialogue between these two bodies of theory. Bakhtin's quest, resumed
by Kristeva but then discontinued, for a more adequate typology of
- one more sensitive to the
genres ideological functioning of genres,
and to the differentmodes of signification associated with different
- remains a
genres pressing need. Combining the insightsofBakhtin
and Kristeva would mean distinguishingmore effectivelybetween the
intertextual practices of particular genres, according to density, type
or range of intertextualreference, or in terms of the tension - which
varies from genre to genre - between internal, 'centripetal' forces
(intratextuality)and external, 'centrifugal' forces (intertextuality).Few
people, for instance, would accept Bakhtin's tendentious polarization
of poetry and prose, but his claim that certain genres or texts erase the
external associations of the words they import (the Lethe argument)
complicates the whole thesis of intertextuality, and calls radically
into question the crude notions of citation that often underpin so-
called 'contextual' readings of works of literature (the somewhat
confused debate among Romanticists over the contextual resonance
of the word 'conspire' in Keats's ode 'To Autumn' is a case in
Kristeva's insistence on the syntactic and phonic levels at which
texts interconnect and converse is also salutary at a time when the
semantic - or what might be called lexicocentric - model of inter-
textuality has been given such an enormous boost by information
technology. All electronic texts are accessible to 'word searches', but
what software allows us to search at the level of punctuation, or
to trace similarities of sentence construction or word formation, or
indeed to study sound patternsor rhythmicrepetitions? Greater alert-
ness to these more hidden forms of intertextualitycould appreciably
deepen our understanding of how particular genres are constituted,
as could a careful application of Kristeva's distinctions between semi-
otic and symbolic planes, phenotext and genotext. Finally, more
work needs to be done on the relations betweengenres, and on the
differentways that genres can combine. The insights of Bakhtin
and the Russian Formalists on these matters have yet to be fully
explored, and intertextualitytheory can help us to map the semiotic

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Intertextuality GenreTheory:
, Kristeva
ofGenre 69
force fields that are created when differentsign-systemsintersect or

University of Aberdeen

This articleoriginatesin a shortpaper given at the Influence
and Intertextuality
conferenceat the Universityof Bristolin May 1997. I am grateful to Graham
Allenforhisvaluablecommentson theoriginalversion.
1 A comprehensive checklistto 1979 is Udo J. Hebel, Intertextuality, Allusion,
and Quotation:An International Bibliographyof CriticalStudies(New York,
GreenwoodPress,1989). Forsubsequentwork,see entrieson 'Intertextuality'
in The Year'sWorkin Critical and CulturalTheory (1991-).
2 For an appraisalof the currentstateof intertexuality studies,see Graham
Allen,Intertextuality (London,Routledge,2000). The moreactivetheoretical
engagementa decade earlieris illustrated by two influentialcollections:
Intertextuality:Theories and Practices
, edited by Michael Worton and Judith
Still (Manchester,ManchesterUniversityPress, 1990); and Influence and
Intertextualityin Literary History, edited by JayClayton and Eric Rothstein
(Madison,University ofWisconsinPress,1991).
3 GerardGenette,Palimpsests: Literature in the SecondDegree , translatedby
Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky(Lincoln,University of Nebraska
4 RolandBarthes, interview withJeanThibaudeauin TelQuel(1971),reprinted
in The Tel Quel Reader , editedby Patrickffrench and Roland-FrançoisLack
(London,Routledge,1998), pp. 261-2.
5 'The Law of Genre',translated by AvitalRonell, inJacquesDerrida,Actsof
Literature, edited by Derek Attridge(London,Routledge,1992), p. 224.
6 Benedetto Croce, Aesthetic as Scienceof Expression and GeneralLinguistic ,
translated by Douglas Ainslie,2nd edition (London, Peter Owen, 1953),
p. 449.
7 FredricJameson,'Magical Narratives:Romance as Genre, New Literary
History, 7:1 (1975), 135-63 (p. 135).
8 FriedrichSchlegel,Literary Notebooks 1797- 1801, editedby Hans Eichner
(London, Athlone Press, 1957), p. 116, quoted in PeterSzondi, 'Friedrich
Schlegel'sTheory of PoeticalGenres: A Reconstruction fromthePosthumous
Fragments', Szondi, On Textual Understanding and OtherEssays, translated
by Harvey Mendelsohn (Manchester, Manchester UniversityPress,1986),
p. 93. For an overviewof GermanRomanticgenretheory,see Tilottama
Rajan, 'TheoriesofGenre',in TheCambridge HistoryofLiteraryCriticism
, vol.

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70 Paragraph
5: Romanticism , editedbyMarshallBrown(Cambridge,CambridgeUniversity
Press,2000), ch. 11.
9 Athenaeum ' '
Fragments , no. 434, in Friedrich
Schlegel'sLucindeandtheFragments ,
translated by Peter Firchow (Minneapolis,Universityof MinnesotaPress,
1971), p. 237.
10 'FromWorkto Text' (1971), in Roland Barthes,ImageMusicText, translated
by StephenHeath (Glasgow,Collins,1977), p. 160.
11 Geoffrey Hartman,Preface,Deconstruction and Criticism [1979] (New York,
Continuum,1990), p. viii.
12 'The Bounded Text' (1969), inJuliaKristeva,Desirein Language:A Semiotic
Approach toLiterature andArt, editedby Leon S. Roudiez (Oxford,Blackwell,
1981),p. 36. Hereafter citedas 'Bounded'. ElsewhereKristevawrites:'When
studying linguisticstructures, semiologyhas the advantage - or at leastthe
non-negligiblesubversivequality of overridingthe distinction between
literaryand non-literary as it does the distinctions of genre(poem, novel,
shortstoryetc.)madebyclassicalrhetoric, and ofsearching fornew structural
particularities'('Problèmes de la structuration du in
texte', Théorie d'ensemble
(Paris,Seuil, 1968), p. 299).
13 These well-knownphrasesappear in Kristeva'sfirstpublishedessay on
Bakhtinand intertextuality, 'Word,Dialogue,and Novel' (1967), in Desirein
Languagepp. 65-6. Hereafter citedas 'Word'. Bakhtinhimselfoccasionally
uses metaphorsof 'mosaic' and 'absorption'in discussinggenre-mixing and
otheraspectsof dialogism.
14 Julia Kristeva,'The Ruin of a Poetics' (1970), in RussianFormalism: A
CollectionofArticles andTextsin Translation , editedby StephenBann andJohn
E. Bowlt (Edinburgh, ScottishAcademicPress,1973),p. 109. Hereafter cited
as 'Ruin'.
15 PhilipLewis's label, in his influential reviewarticle,'RevolutionarySemi-
otics',Diacritics, 4:3 (1974), 28-32.
16 ForBakhtin'suseofthisterm,see M.M. Bakhtin/P.N.Medvedev,TheFormal
MethodinLiterary Scholarship:A CriticalIntroduction toSociologicalPoetics(1928),
translatedby Albert J. Wehrle (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press,
1978),pp. 17ff. Hereafter cited as Formal Method. Kristeva's mostdetermined
applicationof thisconceptis heressay'The Bounded Text'.
17 'Intertextuality and LiteraryInterpretation', an interviewwith Margaret
Waller(1985),inJuliaKristeva, Interviews
, editedbyRoss MitchellGuberman
(New York, ColumbiaUniversity Press,1996), pp. 189-90.
18 Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language(1974), translated by Margaret
Waller(New York,ColumbiaUniversity Press,1984),pp. 120-1. Hereafter
citedas Revolution. See also her earlierexpositionof theseconceptsin her
essay'L'engendrement de la formule',inJuliaKristeva,Semeiotikè: Recherches
pour une sémanalyse (Paris,Seuil, 1969); and the helpfulcommentary by

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Intertextuality GenreTheory: Bakhtin, KristevaandtheQuestion ofGenre 71
Christopher M.Johnson,'Intertextuality andthePsychicalModel', Paragraph ,
11:1 (1988), 71-89.
19 Carol MastrangeloBové emphasizesthese continuitiesin her essay,'The
Text as Dialogue in Bakhtinand Kristeva',University of OttawaQuarterly ,
53:1 (1983), 117-24.
20 'Content,Materialand Formin VerbalArt' (1924), in ArtandAnswerability :
Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin , edited by Michael Holquist
and Vadim Liapunov (Austin,Universityof Texas Press, 1990), p. 258.
The contextof thisremarkis a discussionof the methodologicalproblems
involvedin the Russian Formalistattemptto construct(prematurely, in
Bakhtin'sview) 'a scienceofliterature'.
21 'The ProblemoftheText in Linguistics, Philologyand theHuman Sciences:
An Experimentin PhilosophicalAnalysis'(1959-61), in M.M. Bakhtin,
SpeechGenresand OtherLate Essays, editedby CarylEmersonand Michael
Holquist(Austin,University of Texas Press,1986), p. 105.
22 Furtherevidenceof what Ken Hirschkop,in his recentmonograph,calls
Bakhtin's'insistentand ceaselessinterestin the "generic",as the textual
formin whichthe dialogicalis embodied' (.MikhailBakhtin : An Aestheticfor
Democracy (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 10).
23 Mikhail Bakhtin,'The Problem of Speech Genres' (1952-3), in Speech
Genresand OtherLate Essays, op. cit., pp. 78-9, 65. Hereaftercited as
'Speech Genres'.
24 V.N. Vološinov,Marxism andthePhilosophy ofLanguage , translatedbyLadislav
Matějka and I.R. Titunik (Cambridge,Mass., HarvardUniversityPress,
1973),p. 20.
25 'Discoursein theNovel' (1934-5), inM.M. Bakhtin,TheDialogicImagination:
FourEssays , editedby Michael Holquist (Austin,University of Texas Press,
1981),p. 289. Hereaftercited as 'Discourse'.
26 For a succinctdefinition, see 'Speech Genres',pp. 61-2.
27 See Bakhtin's'Response to a Question fromthe NovyMir EditorialStaff
(1970), in SpeechGenresand OtherLateEssays, op. cit.,p. 5. Hereafter cited
as 'Response'.
28 See 'Bounded'; also her largerstudyof the same topic,Le Textedu roman:
approche sémiologique d'unestructure discursive
transformationnelle (The Hague,
Mouton, 1970).
29 MikhailBakhtin,RabelaisandHis World(1965),translated byHélène Iswolsky
(Bloomington, Indiana University Press,1984), especiallych. 3: 'Popular-
FestiveFormsand Imagesin Rabelais'.
30 As pointedout in the astutecritiqueby JohnFrow, Marxismand Literary
History (Oxford,Blackwell,1986), p. 128.
31 MikhailBakhtin,Problems ofDostoevsky's Poetics(1963), editedand translated
by Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis,Universityof Minnesota Press, 1984),
p. 106. The implications of thispassageforBakhtin'sbroaderunderstanding

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72 Paragraph
of genreare discussedby Clive Thomson,'Bakhtin's''Theory" of Genre',
Studiesin Twentieth Century Literature, 9:1 (1984), 29-40.
32 Discussedin 'Toward a Methodologyforthe Human Sciences',in Speech
GenresandOtherLateEssays, op. cit.,p. 169.
33 Ibid.,p. 169; cf.'Response ', pp. 4-5.
34 See 'FormsofTime andChronotopein theNovel: NotesTowarda Historical
Poetics'(1937-8) in TheDialogicImagination; andthefragmentary essayon the
BildungsromanSpeech Genres and Other Late Essays, especiallypp. 46-53.
Bakhtin'streatment of time is analysedby Gary Saul Morson, 'Bakhtin,
Genresand Temporality',New Literary History, 22 (1991), 1071-92; and
Michael Holquist,Dialogism:Bakhtinand His World(London, Routledge,
1990), ch. 5.
35 As notedbyV.V. Ivanov,'The Significance ofM.M. Bakhtin'sIdeason Sign,
Utteranceand Dialogue forModernSemiotics',in Semiotics andStructuralism:
Readings fromtheSovietUnion , editedby HenrykBaran (WhitePlains,New
York, International Artsand SciencesPress,1976), p. 191.
36 'Epic and Novel: Toward a MethodologyfortheStudyoftheNovel' (1941),
in TheDialogicImagination , op. cit.,p. 3.
37 'AfterBakhtin',in David Lodge, TheLinguistics ofWriting : Arguments between
Languageand Literature (Manchester,ManchesterUniversityPress, 1987),
p. 97.
38 On Bakhtin's'massiveand uncritical borrowing'fromtheseGermansources,
see TzvetanTodorov, MikhailBakhtin:TheDialogicalPrinciple , translatedby
Wlad Godzich(Manchester, ManchesterUniversity Press,1984),pp. 85-90;
also JenniferWise, 'MarginalizingDrama: Bakhtin'sTheory of Genre',
Essaysin Theatre , 8:1 (1989), 15-22; and Galen Tihanov,'Bakhtin,Lukács
and GermanRomanticism:The Case of Epic and Irony',in Face to Face:
Bakhtinin Russia and the West , edited by Carol Adlam et al. (Sheffield,
Sheffield AcademicPress,1997), pp. 273-98.
39 On Bakhtin'sinterestin Lukács,see KaterinaClarkand Michael Holquist,
MikhailBakhtin (Cambridge,Mass.,BelknapPress,1984),pp. 99, 271. Foran
extendedcomparison, see MichelAucouturier, 'The TheoryoftheNovel in
Russiain the1930s:LukácsandBakhtin',in TheRussianNovelfromPushkin to
Pasternak, editedbyJohnGarrard(New Haven,Yale University Press,1983);
and Galin Tihanov, TheMasterand theSlave:Lukács,Bakhtin andtheIdeasof
Time(Oxford,ClarendonPress,2000). It is,presumably, theinfluenceof
Lukácsand the Hegeliantradition thataccountsforthe 'essentialism' which
EvelynCobley finds so problematic in Bakhtin's historical of
poetics genre
('MikhailBakhtin'sPlace in GenreTheory',Genre , 21 (1988), 321-38).
40 See FormalMethod , p. 134, wherehe adds:'An artistmustlearnto see reality
withtheeyesofthegenre'.Bakhtinechoesthisdefinition in hisgnomiclate
commentson genrein 'Response',p. 5.

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Intertextuality GenreTheory: Bakhtin,Kristeva andtheQuestion ofGenre 73
41 'Literaturewithouta Plot: Rozanov' (1921), in ViktorShklovsky,Theory
ofProse, translated by BenjaminSher (Elmwood Park,111.,Dalkey Archive
Press,1990), p. 190.
42 The Knight'sMove (1923) is the title of anotherof Shklovsky 's books,
unavailablein Englishbut translatedinto French:Victor Chklovski,La
Marchedu cheval , translatedby Michel Pétris(Paris,ChampLibre,1973).
43 See especiallyTynyanov,'On LiteraryEvolution' (1927), in Readingsin
RussianPoetics:Formalist andStructuralist
Views, editedbyLadislavMatějkaand
Krystyna Pomorska (Cambridge, Mass.,MIT Press,1971); andEikhenbaum,
'The Theoryofthe"FormalMethod" ' [1926],in RussianFormalist Criticism:
FourEssays,editedbyLee T. LemonandMarionJ.Reis (Lincoln,University
44 The phraseoccursin Shklovsky, Literatura
i kinematograf (Berlin,I. Ladyzh-
nikov, 1923), p. 29, quoted by VictorErlich,RussianFormalism: History-
Doctrìne, 3rdedition(New Haven,Yale University Press,1981), p. 260.
45 The bestaccountofthisprocesscan be foundin Tynyanov'simportant essay
'The LiteraryFact' (1924), translated by Ann Shukman,in ModernGenre
Theory, editedby David Duff(Harlow,Longman,2000).
46 On thisdistinctive featureofhiswork,see GrahamPechey,'Not theNovel:
Bakhtin,Poetry,Truth,God', in Bakhtinand CulturalTheory , edited by
Ken Hirschkopand David Shepherd,2nd edition(Manchester, Manchester
University Press,2001).
47 Fora summary ofcurrent see myintroduction
trends, to ModernGenreTheory ,
op. cit.,pp. 16-18.
48 Genette,Palimpsests ; LaurentJenny,'The Strategy of Form'(1976), in French
Literary TheoryToday:A Reader , editedby Tzvetan Todorov (Cambridge,
CambridgeUniversity Press,1982);Jean-MarieSchaeffer, 'Du texteau genre:
notessurla problématique générique'(1983), in Théoriedesgenres, editedby
GérardGenetteand TzvetanTodorov (Paris,Seuil, 1986).

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