Genre theory, corpus and tautology  

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"Your objections, I must freely tell you, are no better than the abstruse cavils of those philosophers who denied motion; and ought to be refuted in the same manner, by illustrations, examples, and instances, rather than by serious argument and philosophy." --Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, David Hume

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

One can easily argue that all genres are tautologies.

When trying to define a genre, we must look for characteristics of the genre.
The characteristics of a genre are found in the corpus of works that belong to the genre.
The corpus can only be found by defining the characteristics.
So genre = characteristics = corpus = genre ----> tautology.

Donato Totaro [2000] said almost the same when he stated in relation to the horror genre that:

"Admittingly, I am swimming into a tautological sea by assuming a general understanding of the horror genre. But a certain tautology is a necessary evil of genre theory, and I mean the latter more as a categorization rather than definition of the horror genre. Besides, I do agree with Noel Carroll's other not sufficient descriptions of "art-horror" (the quality of being "interstitial," ie. something that can not be categorized, as for example, vampires, mummies, zombies that are neither living nor dead; impurity, disgust, etc.)." --Donato Totaro, 2000 via [1]

The argument was also repeated by Jeffrey Sconce [2003], who acknowledges Andrew Tudor:

"Much of the work in genre theory has devoted itself to avoiding tautological definitions of a group of films (ie westerns are westerns because they are set in the Old West, which means they are westerns — see Tudor 1995)." --Esper, the renunciator: teaching ‘bad' movies to good students, Jeffrey Sconce quoted in Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste (2003)

And here is the original Andrew Tudor [1974] argument:

"To take a genre such as a ‘Western’, analyse it, and list its principal characteristics, is to beg the question that we must first isolate the body of films which are ‘Westerns’. But they can only be isolated on the basis of the ‘principal characteristics’ which can only be discovered from the films themselves after they have been isolated. That is, we are caught in a circle that first requires that the films be isolated, for which purposes a criterion is necessary, but the criterion is, in turn, meant to emerge from the empirically established common characteristics of the films." --Theories of Film (1974), chapter " Critical Method: Auteur and Genre", Andrew Tudor

But before Totaro, Sconce and Tudor, there was Damon Knight [1952] who said:

"Science fiction is what we point to when we say it"

See also

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