Trope Theory, Cane, and the Metaphysical Case for Genre

Trope Theory, Cane, and the Metaphysical Case for Genre

Volume 46, Number 3 (Fall 2013)
pages 239-263
DOI: 10.1215/00166928-2345605

Katie Owens-Murphy
Department of English
University of Minnesota, Duluth

Although we rely regularly on genre as a conceptual apparatus for our scholarship and course offerings, genre studies as a theory and methodology has never quite recovered from the opposition of Jacques Derrida, whose well-known essay “The Law of Genre” (1980) accused literary taxonomies of distorting the inherently indeterminate meanings of texts by imposing arbitrary restrictions, or “laws,” on our reading practices. This essay surveys the major objections to genre criticism lodged by its principal critics (especially Derrida) before introducing and advocating “trope theory,” a concept from a branch of analytic philosophy called metaphysics, in response to these objections. It then provides a sustained formal analysis of Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923) to demonstrate trope theory’s superior ability to account for generically hybrid narrative texts and its ability to yield a seemingly infinite number of readings and interpretations.

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