What Is Literature? Essay

1778 Words 8 Pages
Since the 18th century, the definition of the concept "literature" has become a problematic and a controversial issue among various literary schools. What is literature? What are the qualities that distinguish a literary text from a non-literary one? Does literature have any particular function in society? These are some crucial questions whose answers were supposed to limit and define the scope of "literature". However, various literary and critical schools have advanced different and contradictory responses to these same questions, which have consequently led to a failure in producing an authoritatively established definition of "literature".
This failure can be ascribed to many reasons, but because the length of the paper doesn't allow
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This new sense, which was ascribed to the development of printing, was "a specialization … to the printed word and especially the printed books with certain quality [imaginative works]" (Williams, 46). To elaborate on this definition, R. Wellek and A. Warren have stated that "in all of them [the printed books with certain quality], the reference is to the world of fiction, of imagination" (Wellek and Warren, Theory of Literature, 25).
However, a simple review of the history of prose narrative forms would show that this definition of literature as a category of fictional and imaginative writings is irrelevant. Many writings which were written as anthropological documentaries were making use of fiction, while many other fictional works were given the status of documentary and factual writings. All travelogue writings and western historiography between the middle ages and the twentieth century are good examples to illustrate this point. Works like T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, W.M. Thackeray's From Cornhill to Cairo, Kingslake's Eothen, and Sir Thomas More's Utopia made use of both fact and fiction. Moreover, at the time of their appearance, most of these works were conceived of by the western audience as factual and documentary writings. Later on, due to some historical and political changes in the world, these writings became conceived of as fictional and imaginary works.…