Theorie und Methode der Gattungsgeschichtsschreibung. Mediävistische Perspektiven


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Theorie und Methode der Gattungsgeschichtsschreibung. Mediävistische Perspektiven
Journal of Literary Theory
Remele Florian
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The present article proposes a methodology for writing genre history that does not proceed from »always already« existing generic norms, but rather describes the processes through which genres and their conventions emerge in the first place. Scholars in the field have long been calling for a mediation between (systematic) genre theory and the (historical) exploration of genres – i. e., generic historiography (see Lamping 2007; Neumann/Nünning 2007). So far, however, the solutions proposed have been classificatory in nature, and have mainly been concerned with taking into account the historical diversity of genres more fully than had previously been done (Hempfer 1973; Fricke 1981). The theoretical and methodological questions raised by genre historiography regarding the emergence and transformation of genres, by contrast, have hardly ever been the focus of sustained enquiry, despite the fact that a historically adequate approach to the history of genres – meaning an approach not based on classificatory models – remains a desideratum to this day.
Most contributions to the historiography of genre thus far make use of prototype theory or draw on scholarship analyzing schemata and patterns in order to identify genre norms in their historical setting and describe the correspondences with (and/or deviations from) those norms which may be observed in a given text. Yet the methodological problem here is that, ordinarily, prototype-theoretical and schema-oriented approaches raise systematic rather than historical claims. Thus, a »prototype« is understood to be an abstract, ideal model which might never have been realized historically but is still considered the most »typical« exemplar of a given genre whose individual, concrete manifestations may be described as placed along a scale of relative similarity with that exemplar (Tophinke 1997). By adopting such a perspective, the texts belonging to a certain genre may be categorized without having to draw »hard« (i. e., feature-based) boundaries. However, comparing a single text with an ideal model affords hardly any surplus value regarding the question of the origin and change of genres. Being an ideal model, after all, the prototype is constructed a posteriori, on the basis of all available texts assigned to a given genre; it has never served as an actual point of reference for the production or reception of individual texts in their historical context. A similar methodological difficulty arises with a view to scholarship on schemata and patterns, in that these are usually abstracted from all texts belonging to a given genre (like prototypes) or else are fashioned on the model of supposed »masterpieces«, which all but invalidates their explanatory power in a historical context (Schulz 2012).
For the historiography of genres, however, one question of particular interest is a question treated only marginally in scholarship on prototypes and schemata. This is the question of how precisely literary speech acts (Warning 1996) – i. e., certain types of literary representation or the treatment of certain kinds of content – are conventionalized and are thus gradually turned into instances of expectable patterns: patterns to be expected, that is, both on the side of production and of reception. Some scholars answer this question by reference to »normative« works which, they claim, serve as »signposts« for the subsequent production and reception of texts (Voßkamp 1977; Gymnich 2010a). The problem with this position, however, is that it assigns to individual texts an unconditional authority, even though the binding conventionality and literary prestige of any given text only emerges over the course of literary or generic history (Strohschneider 1991). One defining purpose of genre historiography is to describe precisely those processes through which certain literary forms and topics become conventional in the first place – to the extent that any attempt, on the part of scholars, to identify supposedly »pioneering« or »authoritative« works is in stark contradiction to an historical approach to genres. At the same time, research on the history of genres simply cannot start from stable norms or ideal models, which is why it is precisely the constant changes to be observed in the conventional validity of literary speech acts that should be exposed and emphasized.
In fact, the notion of »convention« is crucial to the approach proposed in this article, since conventions – different in this respect from norms or rules – do not arise as the result of (allegedly) authoritative postulates but rather establish themselves, over time, through communal agreement (Weninger 1994). The formation of conventions may be traced by analyzing intertextual references to literary speech acts: if a given text refers to a certain type of literary representation – either in order to reproduce it faithfully or to present alternatives to it –, this reference is selected from a wide array of options for referencing, and is thus recognized as being »worthy of reference«. Constant reference to the same (or similar) literary speech acts then leads to the emergence of a corresponding convention, whose validity, however, is itself subject to change: If intertextual relations change in such a way that the type of literary speech act previously conventionalized is no longer chosen for reference – and is disregarded, in fact, in favour of alternative topics or modes of representation –, this will result in an observable change in conventionality. After all, whatever is considered conventional is determined by intertextual processes of consensus-building, and is thus in a permanent state of renegotiation.
The concrete methodological approach of the present article starts, therefore, from an analysis of intertextual references, insofar as the processes of conventionalization relevant to the historiography of genres can be traced by examining references between individual texts. If one focuses on the question of how genres – and the conventions governing them – arise, the notion of »single-text reference« is preferable to that of »systemic reference«. After all, »systemic reference« denotes the reference of a given text to an established system and thus already presupposes a genre and its systemic norms – elements not available at the outset of a genre’s history. Rather, any truly historical historiography of genres must strive to demonstrate how a set of literary speech acts gradually (by way of intertextual single-text references) forms a system whose conventions may later be referenced. The formation processes of individual genres may therefore be reconstructed by examining the intertextual single-text references that contribute to the conventionalization of literary speech acts and ultimately form a system in contrast to other literary forms of representation.
The present article thus focuses on the Gewordensein – the quality of having become or fundamental »madeness« – of genres as subject to constant historical change. At the same time, it proposes a method for adequately tracing genre emer- gence and change through the analysis of intertextual references and dynamic processes of conventionalization.
Gattungsgeschichte, Gattungstheorie, Konventionalität, Intertextualität, Prototyp, Muster/Schema
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