Monday, July 07, 2008

What Is Literature?

I have been reading upon literary theory. This is a concept defined as a systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature. At the core of this concept and at the core of discussions in this concept is the question: What is literature?

One definition available online holds that literature is "creative writing of recognized artistic value". No? What about
a humanistic study of a body of literature? Hmm. Then there's the profession or art of a writer.

While the definitions and focus tend to be on the written word, can't we, in the age of technology and variety of media,include video games? Can't literature be interactive? What about film? Can we bring that in under the cloak of literature? Music? If it is a creative art form, then why not?

If we hold with the beginning idea of literary theory, which is to come up with a systematic study, a paradigm, then if we can apply the areas of critique to expression, isn't any form of expression valid?

Let me start by probing the elements of fiction. You know, style, plot, character, setting, and theme. If we can apply these elements in critiquing a work, then why not embrace it as literature.

Perhaps we should start with the root of the word. If you examine the early attempts to define the concept, the etymology implies it's writing formed with letters. A later definition in the 1300's established it to be a
body of writings from a period or people.

That body of writing is of course a physical representation of the artistic expression of that point in time. Why written? Because there was no video equipment or computers in the time of the writing og the Epic of Gilgamesh or Beowulf. Perhaps if there had been, the definition could have been expanded.

So I argue, let's expand our concept of literature. Let's begin our adventure into critiquing literature by broadening it's scope and context.


Charles Gramlich said...

My fear would be that if we brought in visual media it would soon overwhelm the study of the rest of literature. People are drawn by visual stimuli so powerfully that it tends to take over everything.

SQT said...

I think I agree with Charles. I think people are already drawn away from the written word too much(read any blogs lately? I can't believe how many people can't spell or use spell check these days).

writtenwyrdd said...

You pose a very interesting question. There are indeed a growing number of mixed-media (art plus literature elements) story creations out there these days.

However, I agree with Charles. I would recommend a new type of definition that encompasses all forms of creative communication if you are going to go multi-media. Literature's most distinct element is that it is written language. We already have specific areas of study for other arts; we can always create an all-encompassing label if we need to. Because I really believe we would lose more than we would gain by critiquing more than books under the definition of literature.

Thanks for stopping by my blog, by the way!

Sidney said...

Good points.

I don't think we've seen the next step for literature yet. Film impacted the 19th century novel though the book in general remained the same.

Interactive fiction has come and gone so far, things like Infotrac games and others, I think.

The novel I don't think has gone through a web influenced revolution yet, fully utilizing hyperlinks and that kind of interactivity but the day may come.

Vwriter said...

Good God. I leave you alone for four or five months and look what I come back to. "What is Literature?" I was hoping for a topic like "Why do Monkeys Scratch?"

Stewart Sternberg said...

Charles, I think there is a place for all forms of creative expression. Even poetry. You are right though, people are drawn to the visual. It is the easiest access point in most cases.

SQT, I think you are right about spelling and sloppy blogs. I'm guilty of that myself from time to time.

Writtenwyrdd, if we come up with another word to address the totality of expression, what would it be?

Syd, I think people worry about change and you are right about how things come and go, then are reinvented and return. There is a sameness to it all.

Rick, the monkey post is next.