Thursday, August 27, 2009

Topic: What Is Literature? (1)

10-second review: Quotations by writers and scholars that shed light on the nature of literature.

Title: Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris. 2004.

The first question, of course, is “What is literature?” The immediate answer to this question is that literature consists of fiction, poetry, essays and drama. However, that definition suggests a related question: “What are the characteristics of literature that make individual short stories, novels, poems, essays and dramas worth reading (and, in the case of drama, attending)? The following quotations suggest some answers to that question.

…great literature, whose meanings…can never be totally grasped because of the endless power to ramify in the individual mind. Loren Eiseley, The Star Thrower, p. 274.

…the reader’s happy conviction that Tolstoy enables him to see everything as if for the first time. Bloom, The Western Canon, p. 336.

What are stories but attempts to fix the permanence of the moment, to salvage it from the rushing impermanence of time? Mellow, Hawthorne In His Times, p. 8.

Someone once said—and I am quoting most inexactly—‘A writer who manages to look a little more deeply into his own soul or the soul of others, finding there, through his gift, things that no other man has ever seen or dared to say, has increased the range of human life.’ F. Scott Fitzgerald On Writing, p. 20.

So shall we come back to look at the world with new eyes…. Emerson, Nature, p. 48.

Euripides could so write as to show the hideousness of cruelty and men’s fierce passions, and the piteousness of suffering, weak, and wicked human beings, and move men thereby to the compassion which they were learning to forget. E. Hamilton, The Greek Way, p. 262.

Cyril Connolly: Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism, what will be grasped at once. Plimpton, ed., The Writer’s Chapbook, p. 256.

[Reading literature]…may lead to questions that you spend your life trying to answer. N. Franklin, The New Yorker, Dec. 15, 1997, p. 64.

Sainte-Beauve: A true classic is an author who has enriched the human mind…. Bater, Criticism: The Major Texts, p. 492.

Special attention [according to Samuel Johnson] should be given to those works that have persisted beyond a particular age or locality, for what the majority of intelligent and discriminating people persist in valuing over different periods of time can greatly assist us toward a flexible standard for judging what will continue to appeal. Bate, Criticism: The Major Texts, p. 205.

To be continued.

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