What Is Literature?Reading, Assessing, Analyzing
What is “Literature”?In the last 50 years, the very meaning of“Literature” and “reading” and“criticism” has undergone deepalteration
Literature:Traditionally,literature is“imaginative”writing---writingwhich is not literallytrueHOWEVER: thedistinction between“real” and “fake” or“fact” and “fiction”isn’t always a gooddistinction; manyclassical works werenon-fiction
What do we mean when we saysomething is “Literary”?“Some texts are born literary, someachieve literariness, and some haveliterariness thrust upon them.”
Is literature dictated bycontext?I’m your teacher. I have several collegedegrees. If I tell you it’s LITERATURE,am I to be believed?Many works of “literature” that we studyin college were constructed to BEliterature, but many were not.
What qualities in form andcontent make a text . . .LITERARY?
LanguageLiterature transformsand intensifiesordinary languageLiterature deviatessystematically fromeveryday speechLanguage inliterature drawsattention to itself--This is what theFORMALISTSthought--Russians inthe early 1900s whoorganized literarycriticism aroundlanguage
When “Language” is the onlycriteria of “literary”, what typesof texts are ignored?Should these types of texts beignored? Why? Why Not?
The problem with language. . .“The idea that there is a single, ‘normal’language, a common currency shared equallyby all members of society, is an illusion. Anyactual language consists of a highly complexrange of discourses, differentiated according toclass, region, gender, status and so on, whichcan by no means be neatly unified into a singlehomogeneous linguistic community.”--Terry Eagleton, literary critic and scholar
What happens when onelanguage is preferred overanother?Can language reveal your: class,race, ethnicity, educational level,gender?
If literature were only based onhow language were usedEverything would be poetry.What other qualities can we look at thatmight help us to define the “literariness”of a text?
The truth is:If “they” (the critics,scholars etc) sayyou’re literature,then you are!If “they” say youaren’t, then youaren’t!“Literature” is aformal, empty sort ofdefinition.“Literature” has no“essence.”“Literature” isdependent upon theway people relatethemselves to thewriting.
Literature is SubjectiveSince the 1980’s, the “literary canon” ofworks--a group of works “agreed upon”to be “the best” by well-known scholarsand critics, has been disputed
Why do you think the “canon”was disputed?And who forwarded the charge ofdispute?
The “Canon” excluded mostworks that were not by white,European malesWorks of literature by women,homosexuals, and works byindividuals of varied races, classesand ethnicities were marginalized
How did this happen?There are many ways of “writing”--butthose in power recognized only one,formal way of “writing,” and this wasgiven the higher valueThus, the literary “canon” is a construct;it was fashioned by particular people forparticular reasons at a particular time.
There is no literary work ortradition that has value in and ofitselfEven Shakespeare!
In his era, Shakespeare wasregarded as a hack!It’s true! Time and circumstance hasoffered the value to particular texts; andthis “value” is a transitive term--it willchange as the people in power changeand are altered, and according to thecontext of the reading of a particular text.
10 Years AgoBLOGS were stupid. NOW:Iraq War Veterans BLOGS areconsidered vital historic and“literary” documents!
Revisioning the Canon:All “literary” works areunconsciously rewritten by thesocieties that read them.
Context:Readers interpret literary works in thelight of their own concernsReaders interpret literary works in thelight of a given circumstanceReaders interpret literary works in thelight of a given time period
HOWL by Allen GinsbergBANNED in its era. . .LITERATURE? Or not?
“I Have A Dream”--Is this speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.Literature? Or Not?
Literature and “value”You see, each of us isconstructed ofexperiences andbackgrounds andemotions and ideasand prejudices andknowledge and lackof knowledge. . .How we eachrespond to aparticular text isdeeply entwined withour broaderprejudices and beliefsystems.
Thus, Literature is defined by:Experience Context
Multi-cultural and Multi-ethnicLiteraturesUniquely situated toview under thisbroader banner ofwho I am and whereI’m from, and howthese thingscontribute to what IwriteYOU are invited tocontextualizeyourself as well--whoYOU are and in whatcontext you’rereading these texts inorder to understandhow you ‘read’ aparticular text
So: WHAT IS LITERATURE?What constitutes a “literary” text?What qualities will help me todetermine the ‘literariness’of a text?