Friday, August 28, 2009

Topic: What Is Literature? (2)

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.

Sainte-Beauve: …Cervantes and Moliere, practical painters of life…who laughingly embrace all mankind, turn man’s experience to gaiety, and know the powerful working of a sensible, hearty and legitimate joy. Bate, Criticism: The Major Texts, p. 495.

I.A. Richards had reasserted…the ancient classical belief that art acts formatively in enlarging one’s sensibility, deepening one’s sympathies, and inducing a more organized and harmonious ability to experience life. Bate, Criticism: The Major Texts, p. 574.

Coleridge: Without that acquaintance with the heart of man…I am deeply convinced that no man, however wide his erudition, however patient his antiquarian researches, can possibly understand or be worthy of understanding, the writings of Shakespeare. Bate, Criticism: The Major Texts, p. 391.

Arnold: …and what actions are the most excellent…those…which most powerfully appeal to the great primary human affections: to those elementary feelings which subsist permanently in the race, and which are independent of time. Preface to Poems. Bate, Criticism: The Major Texts, p. 446.

Dr. James Billington, Librarian of The Library of Congress: But it was a wonderful bit of advice, ‘Go read War and Peace' because it taught me early in life that if you want to really learn about something, it’s better to read yesterday’s novel than today’s newspaper…where you get some wisdom, some perspective on things. Lamb, ed, Booknotes, p. 131.

To be continued.

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