From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Literature (from Latin litterae (plural); letter) is the art of written works. Literally translated, the word literature means "acquaintance with letters" (as in the "arts and letters"). The two most basic written literary categories include fiction and non fiction.
People sometimes differentiate between "literature" and some popular forms of written work. The terms "literary fiction" and "literary merit" serve to distinguish between individual works. Critics may exclude works from the classification "literature," for example, on the grounds of bad grammar or syntax, unbelievable or disjointed story, or inconsistent characterization. Sometimes, a work may be excluded based on its prevailing subject or theme: genre fiction such as romances, crime fiction, (mystery), science fiction, horror or fantasy have all been excluded at one time or another from the literary pantheon, and depending on the dominant mode, may or may not come back into vogue.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest known literary works. This Babylonian epic poem arises from stories in Sumerian. Although the Sumerian stories are older ( probably dating to at least 2100 B.C.), it was probably composed around 1900 BC. The epic deals with themes of heroism, friendship, loss, and the quest for eternal life.
Different historical periods have emphasized various characteristics of literature. Early works often had an overt or covert religious or didactic purpose. Moralizing or prescriptive literature stems from such sources. The exotic nature of romance flourished from the Middle Ages onwards, whereas the Age of Reason manufactured nationalistic epics and philosophical tracts. Romanticism emphasized the popular folk literature and emotive involvement, but gave way in the 19th-century West to a phase of realism and naturalism, investigations into what is real. The 20th century brought demands for symbolism or psychological insight in the delineation and development of character.
A poem is a composition written in verse (although verse has been equally used for epic and dramatic fiction). Poems rely heavily on imagery, precise word choice, and metaphor; they may take the form of measures consisting of patterns of stresses (metric feet) or of patterns of different-length syllables (as in classical prosody); and they may or may not utilize rhyme. One cannot readily characterize poetry precisely. Typically though, poetry as a form of literature makes some significant use of the formal properties of the words it uses -- the properties of the written or spoken form of the words, independent of their meaning. Meter depends on syllables and on rhythms of speech; rhyme and alliteration depend on the sounds of words.
Arguably, poetry pre-dates other forms of literature. Early examples include the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (dated from around 2700 B.C.), parts of the Bible, the surviving works of Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey), and the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. In cultures based primarily on oral traditions the formal characteristics of poetry often have a mnemonic function, and important texts: legal, genealogical or moral, for example, may appear first in verse form.
Some poetry uses specific forms. Examples include the haiku, the limerick, and the sonnet. A traditional haiku written in Japanese relate to nature, contain seventeen onji (syllables), distributed over three lines in groups of five, seven, and five, and should also have a kigo, a specific word indicating a season. A limerick has five lines, with a rhyme scheme of AABBA, and line lengths of 3,3,2,2,3 stressed syllables. It traditionally has a less reverent attitude towards nature. Poetry not adhering to a formal poetic structure is called "free verse"
Language and tradition dictate some poetic norms: Persian poetry always rhymes, Greek poetry rarely rhymes, Italian or French poetry often does, English and German poetry can go either way. Perhaps the most paradigmatic style of English poetry, blank verse, as exemplified in works by Shakespeare and Milton, consists of unrhymed iambic pentameters. Some languages prefer longer lines; some shorter ones. Some of these conventions result from the ease of fitting a specific language's vocabulary and grammar into certain structures, rather than into others; for example, some languages contain more rhyming words than others, or typically have longer words. Other structural conventions come about as the result of historical accidents, where many speakers of a language associate good poetry with a verse form preferred by a particular skilled or popular poet.
In recent years, digital poetry has arisen that takes advantage of the artistic, publishing, and synthetic qualities of digital media.
'Essay' in English derives from 'attempt.' Thus, one can find open-ended, provocative and/or inconclusive essays. The term "essays" first applied to the self-reflective musings of Michel de Montaigne--even today he has a reputation as the father of this literary form.
Genres related to the essay may include:
- the memoir, telling the story of an author's life from the author's personal point of view
- the epistle: usually a formal, didactic, or elegant letter.
- works by Lady Murasaki, the Arabic Hayy ibn Yaqdhan by Ibn Tufail, the Arabic Theologus Autodidactus by Ibn al-Nafis, and the Chinese Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong.
Early novels in Europe did not count as significant litera perhaps because "mere" prose writing seemed easy and unimportant. It has become clear, however, that prose writing can provide aesthetic pleasure without adhering to poetic forms. Additionally, the freedom authors gain in not having to concern themselves with verse structure translates often into a more complex plot or into one richer in precise detail than one typically finds even in narrative poetry. This freedom also allows an author to experiment with many different literary and presentation styles—including poetry—in the scope of a single novel.
Other prose literature
Philosophical, historical, journalistic, legal and scientific writings are traditionally ranked as literature. They offer some of the oldest prose writings in existence; novels and prose stories earned the names "fiction" to distinguish them from factual writing or nonfiction, which writers historically have crafted in prose.
As advances and specialization have made new scientific research inaccessible to most audiences, the "literary" nature of science writing has become less pronounced over the last two centuries. Now, science appears mostly in journals. Scientific works of Aristotle, Copernicus, and Newton still possess great value. But since the science in them has largely become outdated, they no longer serve for scientific instruction. Yet they remain too technical to sit well in most programmes of literary study. Outside of "history of science" programmes, students rarely read such works. Many books "popularizing" science might still deserve the title "literature"; history will tell.
Philosophy, too, has become an increasingly academic discipline. More of its practitioners lament this situation than occurs with the sciences; nonetheless most new philosophical work appears in academic journals. Major philosophers through history—Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Descartes, Nietzsche—have become as canonical as any writers. Some recent philosophy works are argued to merit the title "literature", such as some of the works by Simon Blackburn; but much of it does not, and some areas, such as logic, have become extremely technical to a degree similar to that of mathematics.
A great deal of historical writing ranks as literature, particularly the genre known as creative nonfiction. So can a great deal of journalism, such as literary journalism. However these areas have become extremely large, and often have a primarily utilitarian purpose: to record data or convey immediate information. As a result the writing in these fields often lacks a literary quality, although it often and in its better moments has that quality. Major "literary" historians include Herodotus, Thucydides and Procopius, all of whom count as canonical literary figures.
Law offers a less clear case. Some writings of Plato and Aristotle, or even the early parts of the Bible, might count as legal literature. The law tables of Hammurabi of Babylon might count. Roman civil law as codified in the Corpus Juris Civilis during the reign of Justinian I of the Byzantine Empire has a reputation as significant literature. The founding documents of many countries, including Constitutions and Law Codes, can count as literature; however, most legal writings rarely exhibit much literary merit, as they tend to be rather garrulous. A notable exception to this can be found in the opinions of the United States Supreme Court Justices, which are often heralded as modern masterpieces of literature.
Game design scripts are never seen by the player of a game and only by the developers and/or publishers to help them understand, visualize and maintain consistency while collaborating in creating a game, the audience for these pieces is usually very small. Still, many game scripts contain immersive stories and detailed worlds making them a hidden literary genre.
Most of these fields, then, through specialization or proliferation, no longer generally constitute "literature" in the sense under discussion. They may sometimes count as "literary literature"; more often they produce what one might call "technical literature" or "professional literature"
A play or drama offers another classical literary form that has continued to evolve over the years. It generally comprises chiefly dialogue between characters, and usually aims at dramatic / theatrical performance (see theatre) rather than at reading. During the 18th and 19th centuries, opera developed as a combination of poetry, drama, and music. Nearly all drama took verse form until comparatively recently. Shakespeare could be considered drama. Romeo and Juliet, for example, is a classic romantic drama generally accepted as literature.
Greek drama exemplifies the earliest form of drama of which we have substantial knowledge. Tragedy, as a dramatic genre, developed as a performance associated with religious and civic festivals, typically enacting or developing upon well-known historical or mythological themes. Tragedies generally presented very serious themes. With the advent of newer technologies, scripts written for non-stage media have been added to this form. War of the Worlds (radio) in 1938 saw the advent of literature written for radio broadcast, and many works of Drama have been adapted for film or television. Conversely, television, film, and radio literature have been adapted to printed or electronic media.
Other narrative forms
- Electronic literature is a literary genre consisting of works which originate in digital environments.
- Films, videos and broadcast soap operas have carved out a niche which often parallels the functionality of prose fiction.
- Graphic novels and comic books present stories told in a combination of sequential artwork, dialogue and text.
Genres of literature
A literary genre is a category of literature.
A literary technique or literary device can be used by works of literature in order to produce a specific effect on the reader. Literary technique is distinguished from literary genre as military tactics are from military strategy. Thus, though David Copperfield employs satire at certain moments, it belongs to the genre of comic novel, not that of satire. By contrast, Bleak House employs satire so consistently as to belong to the genre of satirical novel. In this way, use of a technique can lead to the development of a new genre, as was the case with one of the first modern novels, Pamela by Samuel Richardson, which by using the epistolary technique strengthened the tradition of the epistolary novel, a genre which had been practiced for some time already but without the same acclaim.
Literary criticism implies a critique and evaluation of a piece of literature and in some cases is used to improve a work in progress or classical piece. There are many types of literary criticism and each can be used to critique a piece in a different way or critique a different aspect of a piece.
Literary works have been protected by copyright law from unauthorised reproduction since at least 1710. Literary works are defined by copyright law to mean any work, other than a dramatic or musical work, which is written, spoken or sung, and accordingly includes (a) a table or compilation (other than a database), (b) a computer program, (c) preparatory design material for a computer program, and (d) a database.
It should be noted that literary works are not limited to works of literature, but include all works expressed in print or writing (other than dramatic or musical works).
- List of authors
- List of books
- List of literary awards
- List of literary terms
- List of prizes, medals, and awards for literary prizes.
- List of women writers
- List of writers
- Related topics
- Asemic writing
- Children's literature
- Cultural movement for literary movements.
- English studies
- Ergodic literature
- Erotic literature
- Hinman Collator
- History of literature (antiquity–1800)
- History of modern literature (1800– )
- Literature basic topics
- Literary criticism
- Literature cycle
- Literary magazine
- Modern Language Association
- Postcolonial literature
- Rabbinic literature
- Rhetorical modes
- Scientific literature
- Vernacular literature
- World literature
- Associations devoted to the study of language and literature
Current research interests
- X700 – X799
- Anonymity in publishing
- Postmodern literature
- History of the novel
- History of fiction
- Experimental literature
- The reading revolution
- The reading experience
- Cult fiction
- Literature written in prison
- Table talk (literature)
- Thematic literary criticism
- School of resentment
- Vernacular literature
- Genre fiction vs. literary fiction dichotomy
- Cinematic effects in literature
- Praz’s Romantic Agony
- Todorov’s The Fantastic
- Colin Wilson’s The Misfits and The Outsider
- André Breton’s Anthology of Black Humor
- Patrick J. Kearney's A History of Erotic Literature
- The Intellectuals and the Masses
- The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction