Monday, 23 June 2008

What is literature?

What is literature? This question came to my mind when a colleague commented about my poems-"I can't say that your poems have any literary value but they are instant expression of human emotions..." This comment made me think ;what is literature? Do I write to express myself, to pour out what is on my mind; or to consciously make literary contributions?

So I did my search and came upon this definition of literature- "Literature is a term used to describe written or spoken material"- Esther Lombardi, About.com
The word literature did not come to designate the body of imaginative text till the late 18th century. In Latin Littera means letters and as etymology suggests literature is anything written.

So I became happy for a while, deriving meaning of literature from its etymology and the definition of literature by Lombardi but my happiness did not last very long. I soon came upon another definition by Erza Pound-" Literature is the news that stays relevant" meaning those works of art or imagination that will be read years from now. Now this one is a gray area. How do we know then which books are great pieces of literature and which ones are not? It can be decided many years later only.

So I got further confused what constitutes literature and what not?

More search led me to the following definition by McFadden-

Literature is a canon which consists of those works in language by which a community defines itself through the course of its history.

According to this definition one has to wait for many years for the community to decide if it would identify with the work of writer A or B.

Now let's look at some more definitions-
In a 1877 article in New York Times, Mr. Stopford Brooke says-"By literature we mean written thoughts and feelings of intelligent men and women arranged in a way which will give pleasure to the reader."

Some other viewpoints-

Professor Barry Laga - What is literature ?
Patrick Galloway- What is literature?
Myron Magnet- What use is Literature?
Stopford Brooke - What is Literature (pdf)

It seems that it is difficult to define "Literature" and therefore I would not like to wander in the vast universe of Literature but continue writing as well as I can, expressing my thoughts and feelings without bothering if they will be read after many years from now or not; or become part of the canon by which any society will identify.

I write because I can't do without it.

Some related Books-
"What is Literature and other essays" by John Paul Satre
Hindu Literary Review on Satre's book- 'What is Literature'

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2 Comments:

Blogger lindsaylobe said...

Continue to write what you feel, but keep in mind your audience, as ultimately it’s whether the story has sufficient ongoing freshness and interest that will keep the reader engaged. Today there is a surge in popularity of the everyday diaries of the common people of times past; to understand better what actually transpired and what it was like to live in those times of old. I suspect that will be true going forward.
Best wishes

6/7/08 4:13 pm  
Blogger Abhay K said...

Thank you so much Lindsay for your useful advice. I'll try to keep a diary of the events taking place on a day to day basis.
Cheers!

29/7/08 4:13 pm  

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