This essay was written by Brandon Monk.
“From things that had happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of.” – Earnest Hemmingway from Dick, Kay. (Ed) Interviews from ‘Paris Review’. Penguin 1972
What is literature?
Works of literature change over time. Their meaning today might not be their meaning tomorrow.
Literature is a higher form of art than ordinary fiction. The label carries great weight.
Literature still has a subjective component. Reasonable minds may differ when deciding which works should carry the label.
Literature has subcategories: poetry, short stories, drama and novels. Not all poetry, short stories, drama, and novels, are literature.
Literature is one of the highest artistic forms.
If you label something literature, that’s fine, but you should be prepared to defend your opinion.
Sometimes, you can define literature by what it is not. Literature is not non-fiction.
Literature is fictional and imaginative.
Literature in one society may not be literature in another.
Literature creates worlds that did not previously exist.
Literature makes us question many things, including, our place in the imaginative world created by it. Similarly, those questions should have some bearing on the world we actually inhabit.
Literature expresses ideas from philosophical schools of thought but it is not philosophy.
Literature can have a political effect but it does not decide who gets what, when, and how. It is free from that burden.
Literature can be defined by prior qualifying works.
Literature will not answer every question, but it will cause you to reflect and develop your own answer to the most important questions.
Works of literature attempt to be beautiful. The more ambitious, the better.
Authors of works of literature want you to think they have written something beautiful and true.
Literature is creative. Literature is unique in some way. It can not only be the sum of what came before it.
Literature will define our time and place for future generations and great literature will have something new to say to those future generations.
Literature has something in it that is personal, yet universally applicable.
Literature has no word count or predetermined page length. It is finished when it is finished.
Literature is ultimately given any meaning by its effect on the reader.
Authors of literature can artificially impose constraints on its creation but only if those constraints foster the creative endeavor.
Don’t be afraid to ask what it is you are reading? Sometimes the author may even be confused about the direction until the end. Be prepared to amend your answer as you read.
Try it out. Read 10 pages of a book you choose. Were you reading literature? Why do you think so? When you figured this out did you approach the book in a different way or think about it in a new way?
What other criteria do you use to determine if you are reading literature?