The most pervasive legacy of Romanticism, however, was the idea that it was possible to ignore altogether the doctrine of genres. Such notions were not unknown in earlier periods, but it was the literary theorists of Romanticism who formulated this idea explicitly. Again, Friedrich Schlegel was among the pioneers, and it is in his Fragments on Literature and Poetry (1797) that we encounter, for the first time in 4
Gary Morson and Caryl Emerson, two of the leading American translators and scholars of Bakhtin, have recently attributed to him the creation of a 'Prosaics' (a term of their own invention)/l but this might equally be called a 'poetics of content', for the theoretical reorientation that Bakhtin consistently seeks involves a centralising of the problematic of content - which, for Bakhtin, is almost always defined in ideological terms. In this respect, Bakhtin's difference of emphasis from Formalism, especially early Formalism, is considerable, which may partly reflect the fact that the Formalist enterprise began as an investigation of poetic language. What Bakhtin does is to shift attention from the vexed question of the relationships between literary and ordinary language, and between poetry and prose (issues that were taken up again and developed by the Prague Structuralists), and to concentrate instead on the relationship between what he calls 'primary' and 'secondary genres'. Primary genres include things like letters, diaries, minutes, everyday stories, as well as the so-called 'speech genres', namely the different forms of dialogue; secondary genres are the more complex entities - including the vast majority of literary genres - that are formed by the combination and transformation of primary genres. The novel, for Bakhtin, is unique because of its extreme receptiveness to the primary genres, and because it retains as its structural principle (at least in certain types of novel) the interplay of voices that constitute the materials from which it derives. But all genres, of literature and speech, are not simply sets of devices and conventions, but 'forms of seeing and interpreting particular aspects of the world', ways of 'conceptualising reality' that are stored within the 'genre memory', it being the role of the great artist to awaken the 'semantic possibilities' that lie within a particular genre.