Monday, August 31, 2009

What Is Literature? (3)

10-second review: Summary of ideas 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 ideas based on the preceding quotations suggest some answers to that question.

What Is Literature?

We never completely understand the meaning of great literature; we modify its meaning as we reflect on it in relation to our experience. Literature enables the reader to appreciate anew our commonplace experiences. Literature “freezes” the moment so that it can be experienced and experienced again. Literature plumbs the depths of the human personality and extends our understanding of the possibilities of human life.

Literature helps us to see the world as if we were experiencing it for the first time. Literature encourages compassion. Literature is complex and invites re-reading. Literature raises thought-provoking questions about life. Literature expands the human mind, helps to develop a comprehensive view of life. “Great” literature appeals to generation after generation. Literature contributes to the joy in living. Literature increases one’s sensitivity, deepens one’s sympathy and leads to a more intense experience of life.

Reading Shakespeare requires not just intelligence and scholarship, but an understanding of the emotional life of people. Literature helps us to understand the fundamental unity of all people. Literature helps us to put life in perspective.

Comment: For me, literature—fiction, essays, poetry and drama—provokes thought, deepens my understanding of the nature and possibilities of life, raises questions that require serious reflection, gives perspective to life, and, even when tragic, enhances appreciation of living. Works that continue over the years to provoke these responses in readers are what I mean by “great” literature. RayS.

Next: Why do writers create literature?

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