Essay on What Is Literature?

Essay on What Is Literature?

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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 to tackle all of them, the forthcoming paragraphs will be devoted to discuss only two main reasons. The first reason is the difficulty to distinguish between "fact" and "fiction" in some works which, as it will be clarified in the few coming paragraphs, were anthropological and documentary and were later seen as fictional, or vice versa. The second reason resides in the different perspectives upon which different literary theories have based their views about literature. This paper is, therefore, an attempt to shed light on the indeterminacy of the concept "literature" by explaining and extending on these two main reasons.
To begin with, the concept of "literature", originated from the Latin word "littera", was introduced into English in the fourteenth century. In its beginning, it was not vague or indeterminate as in its modern use. It was used then to refer to "a condition of reading: of being able to read and of having read" (Williams, Marxism and Literature, 46). Hence, it was used to ha...


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...fficult to define authoritatively: the difficulty to distinguish between fact and fiction in literature; and the irreconcilable differences between the socially-based definitions of "literature" and the linguistically-based ones, indeterminacy remains the only true nature ascribed to "literature". It remains unauthoritatively defined from different perspectives, and the controversy over this issue still persists among the academics and the scholars.

Works Cited

Adim, Firdaous. The Colonial Rise of the Novel. London: Routledge, 1993.
Boehmer, Elleke. Colonial and Postcolonial Literature. London: Oxford
University Press,1995.
Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing,1983.
Wellek, R. and Warren, A. Theory of Literature. Harmondsworth:
Penguin,1972.
Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. London: Oxford University
Press, 1977.

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