In Eagleton’s account of the history of the ideas and criticisms of literature, he makes clear the fluctuation of the definition of literature. The definition in recent history morphs to fit each period’s fixation. In the time of Wilde flamboyancy, literature is assessed in a more subjective manner, focusing on the implications brought in by the reader and the context of the poetry. It was the answer to the “spiritual hungering” ignited by World War I. However, when academia became more scientific and institutionalized, so did the literary criticism. This account of English literature further perpetuates what he introduces in the first chapter, that literature is functional rather than ontological. In the eye of the beholder.
Artists often, not always, respond to the demand of their public, and produce works that appeal to the time. They are not removed from society, and can be affected by culture obsessions as much as Joe Blow. I wasn’t in class to experience the Madonna song in full, but I do know Madonna as a product of the 80’s. She has been able to adapt for almost thirty years to cultural shifts. Although the song lacks the verbosity and subject matter usually associated with “good” literature, it is inescapably a reflection of the current state American culture. In this way, is it literature? This song came out last year. Our culture is obsessed with making fame accessible. The television spews reality TV. Everyone wants their fifteen minutes. This song pulls Madonna down from her Kingdom of Pop and humanizes her; she gets her heart broken, too. It is almost hubris to hear Madonna jealous. I’m not sure I would spend more than I just did considering the social implications of her music, but it does contribute to our debate on literature.
On an absent note, is there any music or articles not on the syllabus that I need to read? Tweet me!