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The new normal of literariness: Graphic literature as the next paradigm genre

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I attempt to place graphic literature in a long, polysystemic view of the culturally ascendant genres in global literary history. Linked to the structuralist 'dominant', Ireneusz Opacki's concept of the 'gatunek koronny'/'royal genre' suggests that, at different times, certain literary genres dominate their historical genre system, exerting sway over other contemporary genres. I would argue that in 'the visual turn' the next iteration of 'normal literature' will be irrevocably marked by a new royal genre, namely graphic literature. Comparatively, the scale of this change is on the lines of two other great royal genres of the past: the epic for the classical period, and the novel for modernity. Retranslating Opacki's gatunek koronny and supplementing Hardt and Negri's concepts of Empire and Multitude, I elaborate a new genre system terminology: 'king genre' (epic), 'empire/queen genre' (novel), and 'paradigm genre' (graphic literature). In addition to their sequential differences, I draw out salient parallels between the three genre systems, including their epigenesis (unpredictable emergence), their polygenesis (independent emergence in multiple locations), close interrelationships with their contemporary technologies of media, and their thematic connections to empires and the global condition of war. Graphic literature has a particular affinity to non-fiction, particularly life writing, and, although still melded to the ongoing print paradigm, will interface well with new media. Since all three genre systems have developed a range of short and long forms, the term 'graphic novel' will be an awkward term going forward.
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Keywords: genre systems; graphic literature; graphic novel; literary history; polysystem theory; royal genres

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Publication date: 2012-01-05

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  • Studies in Comics aims to describe the nature of comics, to identify the medium as a distinct art form, and to address the medium's formal properties. The emerging field of comics studies is a model for interdisciplinary research and in this spirit this journal welcomes all approaches. This journal is international in scope and provides an inclusive space in which researchers from all backgrounds can present new thinking on comics to a global audience. The journal will promote the close analysis of the comics page/text using a variety of methodologies. Its specific goal, however, is to expand the relationship between comics and theory and to articulate a "theory of comics". The journal also includes reviews of new comics, criticism, and exhibitions, and a dedicated online space for cutting-edge and emergent creative work.

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