Tag Archives: Tzvetan Todorov

“G” is for Genre: Maxine Chernoff’s Todorov

Cover image: Susan Bee

the poem, then a brief essay

Todorov at Ellis Island
The secret of narrative
in the sight of the lovely
original fixtures,
the false accusations,
the “K” for insanity.
An indigent writer,
specifying the predicate,
fear of fire in ramshackle
buildings, the ghost
of the fantastic looking
across frozen water.
He felt swallowed up
by the 200 stairs,
by a procedure based on
external criteria,
plot and genre likely
to become a public charge.
While from the mountains
of Northern Italy, refused
admittance, a girl acting
mad, alluding to hermits
and saints. For to destroy
does not mean to ignore,
does not meant to build
the story-machine nor to feel
the grass under foot, but
to turn, as if spoken to,
into what we represent.

Maxine Chernoff, from World
      Maxine Chernoff’s “Todorov at Ellis Island” implicitly critiques Tzvetan Todorov’s structuralist theories of genre and narrative. In essence, Todorov posits a literary taxonomy according to a universal grammar of types: he is the Noam Chomsky of narratology and genre studies. The guiding principle in Todorov’s schemas is differentiation: defining boundaries and deciding what to include within those boundaries and what to exclude. And it is the idea of exclusion that Chernoff satirizes in her poem.
      Chernoff anachronistically situates Todorov on Ellis Island during its heyday as a screening station for new immigrants. Continue reading