Today’s question from Booking Through Thursday is:
Do you read ‘literature’ (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?
I also think of a course I took on ‘Literature in the Modern World’, which covered the twentieth century before 1990 and considered what comprises the ‘canon’, the novel, poetry and drama and literary theory. It was Literature in English, not English Literature and opened up a whole new world of reading to me, including Terry Eagleton’s writings on literary theory. In considering what is meant by ‘fine writing’ he wrote, ‘Value-judgements would certainly seem to have a lot to do with what is judged literature and what isn”t’. My thoughts are, who is making the value-judgement and why should we take any notice anyway? My English teacher at school once told me I should be less sceptical – sorry, I still am.
I have A Dictionary of Literary Terms by Martin Gray (I bought this for the course). This defines literature as
‘vague, all-inclusive term for poetry, novels, drama, short stories, prose: anything written, in fact, with an apparently artistic purpose, rather than to merely communicate information; or anything written and examined as if it had an artistic purpose. Literature – also an evaluative word: to say that a novel not is ‘not literature’ is to imply that it is badly written, or has for some other reason failed to achieve the status of art.’
Anyway, I do enjoy reading books by Dickens, Tolstoy, and the rest, just so long as I don’t have to subject them to minute analysis and literary criticism. I prefer to watch Shakespeare’s plays rather than read them, in fact I prefer to watch any drama rather than reading a play, because after all they were written to be performed.