What Is Literature? Essay

508 words - 3 pages

In the text "žWhat is literature?" from Terry Eagleton, the author tries to explain the term literature. He enumerates various definitions of it.First he defines literature by making a distinction between fact and fiction. All works which are fiction, or also called "imaginative writing", can be called literature. In other words, this means that we can decide if a work is literary or not by its content. This explanation does not satisfy Eagleton because much factual writing would not be included. Also some fictional works should not be called literary.The next attempt to define literature is by its language and its form. The Russian formalists had a theory that literary works had to obey to certain rules to be called literature. The "literary language" was supposed to be "language made strange", that means it was not the language used in the everyday speech. There was probably no one who thought at this time that the language would change over the years. Eagleton explains that literature (or poetry) depends on the time and the place you are in at the moment you are reading the piece. He also says that the form of a piece doesn't not decide if a work is literary or not, because "a piece of writing may start off as history or philosophy and then come to be ranked as literature"¦". Also there are some works that belong to literature nowadays but which don't follow the rules the formalists initiated.Eagleton enumerates various definitions of literature, but he finally rejects all of them. He asserts that "literature does not exist in the sense that insects do". He gives all the responsibility to decide however an author's work is literature or not to the reader. "If they decide that you are literature then it seems that you are, irrespective of what you thought you were" It depends on the reader and his social background, his origins, and the place and time he lives in. A piece that may not have been recognized as literature a few centuries before our time may be called literature today. Through a long period of time, a piece of writing stays the same, but the language has changed. A work that was written in ordinary language a few centuries ago may seem literary to us nowadays. This is why Eagleton says that "All literary works, in other words, are "rewritten", if only unconsciously, by the societies which read them." As a conclusion, Eagleton says that there is no real definition for the word "literature", that also means that it doesn't have to follow all the rules. There are no limits for literature, it will always be the reader who can decide whether the work I s literary or not.


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