They've given the rest of the world a celebrated cuisine, haute couture,
and champagne, and now the French are adding another export to the
list -- genetic theory, a school of literary thought that is devoted
to analyzing prepublication material for writers' finished works.
Deppman is introducing this movement to America's shores with the
publication of Genetic Criticism: Texts and Avant-textes, a
book of translations that he co-edited with two colleagues.
"Genetic theorists are more interested in how a work gets produced than
in the final product," says Deppman, an assistant professor of English and
comparative literature. "They look at a writer's notes, drafts, doodles--anything
that will help them understand the thought processes that lead up to the finished
Genetic Criticism presents the work of 11 French theorists in the genetic movement,
translating their essays on major authors including Montaigne, Stendhal, Flaubert,
Zola, Proust, and Joyce. There are also essays devoted to topics such as autobiography,
anonymous authors, and hypertext.
Those who are new to this kind of criticism may be surprised at how
versatile it is. Genetic theory cooperates with many other kinds of
approaches -- feminist, historical, deconstructive, and sociocritical,
for instance, producing unexpected insights, both about the creative
process and about published texts.
As for being the other half of the Deppman comparative literature team (Deppman's
wife, Hsiu-Chuang, is also teaching at Oberlin and is a comparative literature
theorist), he simply asks: "Don't run my profile too close to Hsiu-Chuang's.
Genetic theory can't compete with Jackie Chan."