When somebody mentions “literature,” what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
Do you read “literature” (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?
I don’t like these questions because they make me think too much. Thinking is bad!
When someone mentions the word “literature,” the first thing that pops into my head is that he/she is one of those “lit snobs” that I try to avoid whenever possible. I mean, come on, who says “literature” anymore unless they’re middle-aged spinster high school English teachers who are so outdated that they believe in courtly romance and wear girdles to bed?
Yes, I do think of Dickens, Tolstoy and Shakespeare when I hear the word, and I also occasionally read Dickens, Tolstoy and Shakespeare for fun, so literature doesn’t intimidate me. It’s the classification of literature as being superior to other written works and the implications of this attitude that gets to me.
In its original form the word literature simply means a body of written work that defines a culture or a period in time. Somewhere in our not-so-distant past, someone decided to change it a bit and throw “artistic value” into the definition. This is quite irksome, because that’s when the judging started, and where there is judgement, there is inequality. So we now have a bunch of novels that are considered to be “great literature” based on the opinions of a group of so-called experts. A lot of absolutely brilliant novels are not considered to be “literate fiction,” in fact, they are either lambasted or totally overlooked and not considered at all! Labels suck!
My favorite novels of all time are in the fantasy genre (and no, they aren’t the Lord of the Rings trilogy). In my opinion, these novels are great literature because they beautifully illustrate everything that makes us human: our quirks and cruelty as well as our humanity and heroism. If you’d like to find out more about them, go to this website.
I guess I’ve ranted long enough. Down with the totalitarian hegemony!