From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"I know of no bomb other than a book" -- Stéphane Mallarmé.
"The pen is a virgin; the printing press, a whore" --Filippo di Strata
"Let Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) and Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) be your guide to the current exploration of literature. They lived in an era when literature started to develop into a product of mass consumption. Poe illustrates the horrific and fantastic sensibility and Baudelaire the decadent and experimental qualities of the transgressive fiction which are central to my reading.
The history of literacy is several thousand years old, but before the Industrial Revolution finally made cheap paper and cheap books available to all classes in industrialized countries, in the mid-nineteenth century, literacy existed only in a tiny minority of the world's different societies. Until then, materials associated with literacy were so expensive that only wealthy people and institutions could afford them.
The 19th century was perhaps the most literary of all centuries, because not only were the forms of novel, short story and magazine serial all in existence side-by-side with theater and opera, but since film, radio and television did not yet exist, the popularity of the written word and its direct enactment were at their height."--Sholem Stein, 2020
"Il me semble que, si la littérature s'éloigne du mal, elle devient vite ennuyeuse."--Georges Bataille
Literature, most generically, is any body or collection of written works. More restrictively, literature refers to writing considered to be an art form or any single writing deemed to have artistic or intellectual value, and sometimes deploys language in ways that differ from ordinary usage.
Its Latin root literatura/litteratura (derived itself from littera: letter or handwriting) was used to refer to all written accounts. The concept has changed meaning over time to include texts that are spoken or sung (oral literature), and non-written verbal art forms. Developments in print technology have allowed an ever-growing distribution and proliferation of written works, culminating in electronic literature.
Literature is classified according to whether it is fiction or non-fiction, and whether it is poetry or prose. Fiction can be further distinguished according to major forms such as the novel, short story, or drama; and such works are often categorized according to historical periods or their adherence to certain aesthetic features or genre.
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 literature 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.
- Don Quixote (1605) - Simplicissimus (1668) - Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1669) - La Princesse de Clèves (1678)
- Robinson Crusoe (1719) - Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) - Dom Bougre (1741) - The Sofa: A Moral Tale (1742) - Thérèse the Philosopher (1748) - The Indiscreet Jewels (1748) - Fanny Hill (1750) - The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760-1770) - The Castle of Otranto (1765) - Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782) - The 120 Days of Sodom (1785) - The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) - La Religieuse (1796) - The Monk (1796) - Juliette (1797)
- The Crimes of Love (1800) - The Devil's Elixirs (1815/16) - The Sandman (1817) - Frankenstein (1818) - Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) - The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831) - The Red and the Black (1831) - Gamiani (1833 - Viy (1835) - Bartleby, the Scrivener (1853) - Histoires extraordinaires (1856) - Les Fleurs du mal (1857) - Madame Bovary (1857) - Les Paradis artificiels (1860) - Salammbô (1862) - The Painter of Modern Life (1863) - Notes from Underground (1864) - Le Spleen de Paris (1869) - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) - Venus in Furs (1870) - Carmilla (1872) - The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1874) - Les Chants de Maldoror (1874) Les Diaboliques (1874) - Anna Karenina (1877) - Flatland (1884) - À rebours (1884) - Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) - Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) - The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) - La Bête humaine (1890) - Hunger (1890) - New Grub Street (1891) - The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) - Degeneration (1892) Jude the Obscure (1895) - The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) - Dracula (1897) - The She-Devils (1898) - The Torture Garden (1899)
- Heart of Darkness (1902) - The Monkey's Paw (1902) - The Confessions of Wanda von Sacher-Masoch (1907) - Hell (1908) - The Phantom of the Opera (1910) - We (1920) - Ulysses (1922) - In Search of Lost Time (1913 -1927) - The Metamorphosis (1915) - The Great Gatsby (1925) - Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) - Story of the Eye (1928) - Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) - The Romantic Agony (1930) - The Solar Anus (1931) - Tropic of Cancer (1934) - Thomas the Obscure (1941) - Madame Edwarda (1941) - No Exit (1944) - Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) - The Catcher in the Rye (1951) - The Conformist (1951) - Watt (1953) - Junkie (1953) - Contempt (1954) - Story of O (1954) - Lolita (1955) - The Image (1956) - The Outsider (1956) - Erotism: Death and Sensuality (1957) - Candy (1958) - Emmanuelle (1959) - Naked Lunch (1959) - Boredom (1960) - The Tears of Eros (1961) - The Blue Room (1964) - Ma Mère (1966) - Danse Macabre (1981) - The Piano Teacher (1983) - The Voyeur (1985) - The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders (1988) - Time's Arrow (1991) - American Psycho (1991) - Dirty Weekend (1991) - Fight Club (1996) - Arcades Project (1999)
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