'Discuss The Problematical Nature Of The Concept Of Literature.'

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`Discuss The Problematical Nature Of The Concept Of Literature.’

Discussion surrounding the nature of literature has been ongoing amongst scholars                    

      for a great many years. Throughout this time, even the most elevated and educated minds cannot give an absolute definition of literature-certainly not one with which they all agree. This essay attempts to discuss why the concept of literature is so difficult to define and also looks at the various attempts of others to describe it.

          In his book `Literary Theory’, critic Terry Eagleton outlines some of the attempts to define literature. Perhaps the simplest and most common definition would be to say that literature equates to `fine writing.’(Eagleton-Literary Theory) The problem here is that we then have to define what constitutes fine writing. Quite obviously different people will have different ideas as to what makes a piece of writing fine or great. Naturally personal tastes intervene in objective judgement on such a subject as literature as there is a demand from most writers for their readers to become emotionally involved with their works. Indeed many people-including myself-would say that it is the attachment we can form with characters in a novel that makes a work enjoyable and consequently we would say it was great or fine. However we do not get this same emotion from a newspaper article; yet they provide historical records of events that will preserve the past and present. Surely these have just as much literary significance as any other more elevated works?

           Maybe this concept could be revised. Should we say instead that literature should be deemed a piece of writing that has value to society? `With this reservation, the suggestion that `literature’ is a highly valued kind of writing is an illuminating one. But it has one fairly devastating consequence. It means that we can drop once and for all the illusion that the category literature is objective.’(Eagleton, `Literary Theory’.) The problem here would be that literary value becomes entirely subjective of cultural identity. One of the greatest examples of this would be the English literary canon.

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           The canon contains what is considered to be the epitome of fine English writing and you would find most of our famous writers throughout history, (Shakespeare, DH Lawrence, Austen etc) within it. However, the canon lacks variety in its content. The vast majority of all the writers in the canon would fall under the description of white, male and middle class. Austen and the Brontë sisters are the only really noticeable exceptions to the rule. The reason for all this being that the white, male, middle class has been throughout English history the most prominent ...

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