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Carly's avatar

What is your definition of "literature"?

Asked by Carly (4550points) January 25th, 2011

I’m taking an introduction to literature class and our teacher began the lecture by asking us what we thought “literature” was. At first some students simply said “written work that is meant to be read in depth,” but then as the conversation grew, the answers expanded into all kinds of interesting ideas of was it was and what it could be.

So, jellies, what are your definitions?

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7 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

I don’t feel like typing an in-depth answer, so I’m just going to say books lol.

Arbornaut's avatar

Er.. like books… and.. stuff? Ones wot have liik god meeningz wen i reed tham propa n stuff? or sumfing liik that
Honestly, I dont think im literate enough to give you an answer that means anything.
I just think of the classic novels and that sort of thing usually, those are the first thoughts that come to mind.

Flag as shyte——————>

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

The art of the written word. What constitutes art is subjective and debatable.

WasCy's avatar

I would say, broadly, anything depending on the written word.

So… novels, biographies, autobiographies and non-fiction tracts (books) of all kinds
essays
poetry
plays

But even television and movie scripts
advertising copy
religious works involving words
even music (lyrics) can qualify

TexasDude's avatar

Well, in order to write a work of literature, you have to wear a hat like this while sitting in a cloister. You also have to secretly shun Christianity while desperately avoiding physical contact with your personal physician. Oh, and your book has to be a “triumph of the human spirit” whatever that is.

wundayatta's avatar

When I was growing up, I loved to read science fiction more than anything else. Science fiction, however, was not seen as serious fiction. It was fantasy. It was a genre. Focused on speculation and science. It did not have characters or character development. It was only about story.

As if a successful story could exist without interesting characters.

Literature, it seemed, was what people studied in classes. It was the famous writers from the last century—Dostoevsky and the Brontes and the Jameses and Hemingway, etc. etc. It had miles and miles of description. It had scads of sections that were just about words. It took forever for anything to actually happen. In other words, it really wasn’t about plot very much.

Most of my college friends, to this day, talk with great familiarity about the “classics.” They’ve actually read them. I, on the other hand, did not read a single work of Shakespeare as a high school student and I only read one—Hamlet—in college, and that was doing an independent study.

It is with some delight that I now discover that many of my favorite science fiction novels from decades ago are now taught as “literature” in high schools and universities. If I may call it thus, it is a literature that I actually know pretty well. Not as well as some of my friends who are total SF geeks (usually writers—funny that—I met them in a writers group, back when I still thought I could be a writer without laughing at myself), but well enough.

In the day, science fiction fandom was a fairly exclusive club. It was easy to meet the authors at cons, and I’ve got tons of my books signed by the authors with inscriptions to me.

I think that literature has a certain snobbiness to it. It is literature mostly because the educated people think it is worth reading. It makes them feel more accomplished than other people. I think literature is something read by men wearing tweed jackets and smoking pipes while sitting in deep leather chairs, surrounded by two floors worth of books.

Or it is read by women who have rooms with a view, who are somewhat depressed, constantly in search of themselves. Or is that the authors? But the women are well-heeled, and probably married to wealthy men, or else they are artists living on yogurt and lettuce in some tenement loft building with a backyard full of weeds and rusting bits of things you really don’t want to investigate too closely.

Sorry. I’m beginning to wonder what really is out there in the back “yard.” I think my young artist in her paint smattered clothes, standing at the window, surrounded by several works of literature that she is reading for inspiration, is also wondering what is out there, and how she can climb down the fire escape without making it fall off the building, or something.

So I have an attitude here because it seems to me that literature is those novels that I don’t read, but all my friends read, thus putting me at a distinct disadvantage in the brains department. Silly, I know. But there it is.

Take that to your professor and let him or her smoke it in their tweed jacket. No. More likely in a coffee shop, these days. One of those shops with newspapers and a wall of books that are part of that free book exchange thingy. But Harlan Ellison is not sitting in the front window, typing out a story per day while onlookers gaze adoringly. There, but for the grace of God….

mattbrowne's avatar

Language matters more than the entertainment value of the story.

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