In this previously untranslated essay, the Polish Formalist scholar Ireneusz Opacki (pronounced Opatski) returns to the vexed question of the historical evolution of genres, and focuses on an issue that had remained obscure in earlier accounts of the evolutionary process, namely the phenomenon of 'hybridisation'. By this, Opacki means not just the particular type of genre-mixing for which Alastair Fowler reserves the term, but the many different kinds of crossfertilisation which occur when, in the course of their historical development, other genres enter into the sphere of influence of what Opacki calls a 'royal genre' (a 'dominant' genre, in Russian Formalist terms). So powerful is the force field exerted by a royal genre, argues Opacki, and so great is its transformative influence, that hybridisation should be regarded not as a side-effect of the evolutionary process, but as a major cause of it. Similarly, the proliferation of 'genre variants', or 'hybrids', is often the clearest indication we have of a shift in the hierarchy of genres, or the establishment of a new literary trend. This raises further questions, some of which are explored in detail in earlier parts of the essay (not included here): for instance, at what point in its evolutionary development does, say, Greek tragedy cease to be Greek tragedy? When does a hybrid become a genre in its own right? What factors (internal or external) determine the speed of evolution of a particular genre, and why are certain genres apparently more stable than others? The purpose of the essay is not to provide definitive answers to these questions but to bring new clarity and precision to the discussion of literary evolution, while also adding significantly to our understanding of the mechanisms involved. As such,
A further truism is valid here: every literary current introduces for its own use a certain hierarchy of literary genres - there are genres which are dominant in it, and 'secondary' genres which are less representative of it. This is an important phenomenon in literary history, a phenomenon which the study of genre history is beginning to look at. It is this phenomenon which explains why the greatest achievements of Polish drama occur during the second phase of Romanticism, and why the social novel has its most splendid achievements in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Quite simply those genres stood at the peak of the contemporary hierarchy of literary genres; they best rendered the aspirations of the period; they were the most appropriate 'language of translation' for socio-political phenomena into 'the internal tasks and problems of literature'. In eighteenth-century Classicism the 'crown' of literary genres was the ode, the satire and the fable. In the period of Sentimentalism it was the pastoral. In early Romanticism it was the poetic novel, and in its second phase it was the drama. In the period of Mloda Polska it was the lyric and the lyric fairy tale/legend (bash). These are only examples of a few literary currents, examples which are necessary for our comments on the texts we have analyzed.