In Metaphors of Genre, David Fishelov demonstrates the important role played by analogies in genre theory and provides a critical presentation of four specific analogies that permeate modern genre theory: the biological analogy, the family "metaphor," the institutional perspective, and the "speech act" analogy. While making a critical presentation of the existing theories, Fishelov offers new perspectives and hypotheses within each analogy. The discussion in each case is accompanied with an analysis of some examples from the generic tradition most readily lending itself to that particular analogy: the epic for the biological analogy, the novel for the family "metaphor," comedy for the institutional perspective, and the lyrical carpe diem for the "speech act" analogy. Analogies are for Fishelov not just the tools with which people work but the organizing principles of their thought, so that if one can be clear on the limits and uses of certain analogies one has in effect mapped some fundamental conditions for discourse about genres. By understanding the limits of certain analogies one can also come to appreciate their capacity to make questions about genre compelling for themselves and as means to enhance the appreciation of literary works.
Fishelov advocates a pluralistic approach to genre theory. None of the four analogies is all-inclusive. Each succeeds admirably, however, in illuminating certain aspects of the heterogeneous field of literary genres.