Monday, February 2, 2009

The Taming of Literature

After reading the introduction and first chapter of Literary Theory, I was expecting for some sort of concrete and definitive definition of literature to be given. The very name of the first section of the book, “What is Literature?,” invites the reader in with a simple question, and yet after numerous pages, it becomes evident that no one specific explanation is going to define literature. Like most people, I look for simple, all-encompassing explanations and after reading forty six pages of a relatively dry text, I was a little annoyed that the initial question was still hanging, unanswered. Soon after my mild frustration and annoyance had ceased, I realized that by not giving a single definition, Eagleton had provided me with exactly what I needed. There is no one way to define literature. Like Eagleton explained, literature changes with the times and because of that, no formal classification or requirements are continually possible. For me, the very appeal of literature is that it cannot be easily defined and when it is attempted to be broken down and domesticated, some works are going to be unavoidably left out. Who are we to say what is or is not literature?
A similar argument could be the case for modern art. It is now fairly well accepted that no one has the supreme judgment to say what is or is not art. When an artist stacks three ordinary boxes on top of each other in a gallery and starts the asking price at one thousand dollars, the majority of viewers would not think twice about buying such simplistic “art”; however, there is always someone who this piece will speak to. There is always someone who is more than willing to pay ridiculously insane amounts of money for something that might more often than not be mistaken for trash. And because of that one person, the three stacked cardboard boxes are art. I believe that the criteria for literature should follow the same mind state. Even if the greater mass of readers do not regard Madonna’s dance single “She’s not me” as literature, (for the record, I would not consider this literature by any means) someone in the world highly reveres this piece of work and if he wants to call it literature, he can be my guest. It is not my place, or anyone else’s, to set parameters for what is literature and by taming the definition of literature, much of its allure is lost.

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