Thursday, 8 March 2012

Literature? Eh?

A think-piece to begin. Or is it thought-piece? I know, I'll call it a muse-piece. As this blog is subtitled Thoughts on Literature I thought it might be useful to try to define what 'literature' means.

There are those marxist theorists who see it as a purely political tool and an arbitrary term, which I agree with to a certain extent. Who decides what should be in the literary canon? We are encouraged to study Shakespeare (who is undoubtedly held up to be the ultimate in literary genius by all of us educated in the English-speaking world), Chaucer, the Romantic poets (well, only Wordsworth, Keats, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge and Blake), Dickins, the current poet laureate (sometimes...), all of whom are male, pale & posh (except for Carol Ann Duffy, notably the first poet laureate to be either female or gay). Women authors, black authors, non-English speaking authors and others are often studied separately, in their own separate modules of work. 'Let's look at post-colonial authors today children'! Great that they're being included but why differentiate them? Why does the study of these authors need to be justified by virtue of their difference to 'the canon' rather than on their own merit?

There are stylistic approaches to literature which try to unpick literary value inherent in the text itself. Why, for example, is Lady Chatterley's Lover considered to have more literary value than a Mills & Boon novel? Both are trash romance are they not?* Practitioners of stylistics would argue that the value lies in the text. Mills & Boon may be derived from DH Lawrence and therefore share some language features with Lady Chatterley's Lover, but Lawrence's language has higher intrinsic value. One of the main techniques cited is 'deviation'. Deviation may be lexical, grammatical, semantic, etc. and covers a range of techniques such as metaphor, allegory, making the familiar strange, etc. which is only to be found in works of 'literature'.

However, I am in danger of writing an academic essay here instead of sharing my thoughts...

Suffice to say, the term 'literature' is not necessarily a neutral one and so I wanted to squash this before it became an elephant in the room...

I'm not restricting this blog to the great works of literature, but I won't be pointedly avoiding them either.

We'll see what we get to when we get to it.

And decide then what we think.

Shall we?


* I am playing Devil's advocate here. I love DH Lawrence.

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