Does identifying the genre of a spiritual work simply place it in a literary category where it can be compared to other works in the same genre? Or does knowing the genre help the reader come to a deeper understanding of the work than she would have if genre were ignored? David Perrin explores this latter possibility in this essay appearing in an essay collection honoring Bernard McGinn’s contributions to the study of mysticism. Here is the essay’s abstract:
Sensitivity to the literary genre of the Spiritual Canticle of John of the Cross is important, since genre research indicates that the determination of genre is an attempt not only to look back and classify the text in the phase of its production and current state, but also to recognize genre as a form for the production of new meaning which, by its very nature, looks to the future. Genre thus points the reader in a particular direction concerning the meaning of a text and is itself a judgment about its meaning. How one approaches genre – whether as a classification tool (which leaves the text at a distance from the current reader) or as a form for the production of meaning (engagement of the current reader in mining fresh insights for living today) – will determine how the contemporary reader/interpreter approaches the Spiritual Canticle in a current reading. The key question explored in this article is thus the following: is the literary genre of the Spiritual Canticle merely a function of John of the Cross’s style, the content of the work, its structure, meter, the various themes within it, and so on? Or does genre contribute more substantively to a current understanding of this text? Following the literary theory and philosophical hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur, this book chapter studies the literary genre of the Spiritual Canticle in the latter framework.
Perrin, David B. “The Literary Genre of the Spiritual Canticle of John of the Cross.” In Mysticism and Contemporary Life: Essays in Honor of Bernard McGinn, edited by J. Markey and J.A. Higgins, 53-67. Herder & Herder, 2019.