What is Literature?
Do I have my own definition of Literature?
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language refers to Literature as “imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value.”
As people go through school, there are books, poems and plays that they have to read for classes. There are also articles from journals, magazines and newspapers that were assigned reading in English classes. All of the articles took time and effort for their writers to produce, but were not considered Literature. I guess that because those articles are about real people, events, things or places, they aren’t labeled Literature because they aren’t imaginative.
This is a time when the term “fake news” is thrown around a lot. Are these bits and pieces of information Literature because it is a fabrication and therefore “imaginative writing?” Can we view the rhetorical constructs of diverse groups promulgating their favorite fictions as just imaginative literature? Both sides accuse the other of doing it, so is it all just one big story for the people in which to find some strange angry entertainment?
The difference between Literature and Fiction goes back to the reader and how the text influenced the person’s mind and soul. If the work helps the reader see the world in a new way, see something beautiful or grow personally, then that work becomes Literature for that person.
So, now we come to the canon. It is a list of works that most people who study Lit have decided that represent the best in a genre or a period. This list keeps changing as the country changes and norms change. Can each of us create our own favorite list, our canon?
There is a website, poetry.org, that contains thousands of poems by poets. These poems are each beautiful and speak to the soul of the reader in the English language. The poems contain elements that create emotions and psychological reactions in their readers.
Norton’s Introduction to Literature says that, “The difference between pragmatic and literary reading, in other words, resembles a journey that is only about reaching a destination and one that is just about enjoying the ride.”The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter Thirteenth Edition, Kelly J. Mays ed. W.W. Norton& Co, New York: 2019, pg. 3.
This means that the text can be simply enjoyed or it can be read to understand its literary merit which would enhance the enjoyment of the text.
Does that mean that the literary value of a text rests on its interpreter, the reader? Books are chosen to be classics because so many people throughout time have enjoyed them and found them valuable to their experience.
- The Bible is a collection of books that millions and millions of people have read. Is it Literature?
- Choose five books to put in your Canon.
- Choose a book that was part of the canon where you studied and write an essay persuading others to remove it.
- Choose a book that you love and write an essay persuading others to include it.