Just an Article – What is Literature? – #1

For the very first article of the blog, a.k.a. this-post-you-are-looking-at, I would like to start talking about a simple topic:

What is Literature?

OK, OK, I know, it seems hard to describe, even horrible just to think about what it really means. We tend to have a general idea about it, but nothing precise. Even the Experts (very intelligent people that talk about the subject matter) don’t really agree with an universal answer for that question.

But, here I am, trying to establish my own definition.

Sigh, I must be masoquist.

First of all, let’s take a look to a common definition of Literature. This example has been taken from the Merrian-Webster dictionary:

Literature 1

I mean…It’s OK, but…is it perfect? Let’s check the third definition: would you consider that accurate? Think about this: you are walking down the street, someone hands you a flyer about 2-for-1 drinks at the nearest pub. Would you take that as Literature? Yep, me neither (with the exception of that flyer being written by a kind of modern Shakespeare). Literature is not easy to define, but it is not impossible either.

I have another example for you right here, quoted from the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Literature 2

The rest of the definition includes the following sentence: “Literature may be classified according to a variety of systems, including language, national origin, historical period, genre, and subject matter.”. As we all know, every culture in the world creates a different point of view on each individual. For example, something like taking your shoes off when entering a house is not only normal but also a must for an Asian person, but it is an unusual/weird habit for a Westerner. Is it OK? Is it bad? None of them, it is just a habit for a culture. Following this idea, it is easy to understand that what is classified as Literature in one culture/country is not considered that in another. However, even in this mess, we can find some common “rules” about what is Literature and what it is not.

Literature 3From my personal opinion, this whole definition, even including the last part, suits much better a proper definition of Literature than any other summary that I could find on books or the Internet. Why is it so? Because it assumes the concept of Literature to have some intentionality made in purpose by the author, as well as some kind of art. It does not matter whether if you were born on U.S.A., China, South Africa or even the North Pole: if you are going to read something, it must be worth it. This is the mix that Literture precises to be considered so: an author writes a precious text that hides an idea, with an specific purpose, for the audience. There is no Literature without beauty or intention.

Literature 4Through History and in any country or culture, Literature has always been used as a tool to transmit and express stories. Those stories could be about a real situation, a fictional one or just a speech. For example, an actual History book tells us something that happened at a given time, Moby Dick tells the story between a fisherman and a white whale, and Plato made his speeches in order to share his ideas about philosophical or political topics. Literature has been a way to connect people and ideas since the beginning of writing (or even before), and this is the best instrument that we can have: a tool for being humans. But not only this, there is also another point about this “Literature thingy”, that is also found across countries and time: the trust.

Literature 5What? Trust? Trust issues or what? Are you crazy?”, maybe you are thinking this right now. But I am not crazy. I guess. Literature implies something between the author and the reader, a bond that has to be created and kept during the whole reading process and even later, in order to have something that you could call Literature from your heart. Let’s play a game: Peter writes a story. Peter is so proud of his story that sends it to his closer friend, Anthony. Anthony reads Peter’s story and something happens: he doesn’t believe the story. But it is not because of the topic, the genre, not even that he doesn’t like the protagonist… it is just that the story is not believable. For example, Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, is a great novel and you can believe it as real, because it IS kind of real, isn’t it? Another example, maybe a trickier one, is 1984, by George Orwell, and you can even believe it as possible, even though it is not our real world, but a dystopia. Great, we are going good. What about Star Wars? Those films, boy, they are great. The spaceships, the fights, the lightsabers…just everything! Amazing! Epic! But…wait…its story…it is just impossible…and…we believe it. We love it. How can it be? Because that is the job of a writer, the core of Literature: creating a world, no matter if it is real or not, in order to tell you a story that has a purpose. The author has to earn your trust giving you credibility through his words.

This is a extremely long topic to talk about, but I have tried to sum it as much as possible. However, if you think this is too long for you…

TL;DR

Literature is a body of written works that are written by some authors, using credibility to earn the reader’s trust, with the purpose of sharing a hidden idea within the story.

I hope you like this post. If so, share it if you can 🙂

Victoria Dane

PS: Yes, I have included Star Wars as Literature. Some day I will explain my thoughts about what I consider Literature 🙂

Bibliography

“Literature”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 21 Jan. 2016 <http://www.britannica.com/art/literature>.

“Literature.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.

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