Introduction: What is Literature
2-5 The Formalists, Russia, 1910s. “Lit language is a set of deviations from a norm … a ‘special’ kind of language, in contrast to the ‘ordinary’ language we commonly use.” Ordinary lang is different for different classes, regions, ages, etc. Lit lang is an assemblage of devices (sound, rhythm, narrative techniques, etc) and the lit content is merely present as the reason to use these in a particular way. 6-7 However, it’s possible to read anything as literature, giving the text a more general significance beyond its pragmatic purpose (reading it “non-pragmatically”). So whether something is lit depends on how one reads it. Lit is a “functional rather than ontological” term; “it tells us about what we do, not about the fixed being of things.” 8-9 Lit is often what we think of as good. As this is a value judgement there can be no objective category of writing that is literature; it’s whatever we say it is. 10-14 But what we say it is is shaped by inescapable social ideologies. Our value judgements “refer in the end not simply to private taste, but to the assumptions by which certain social groups exercise and maintain power over others.” 1. The Rise of English
15-16 During 18C, and by the Romantic period (19C), lit began to refer only to imaginitive works. 17 Utilitarianism and early industrial capitalism are dominant in England. State reacts to working class protests with “brutal political repressiveness”. The literary work is seen as spontaneous and creative, unlike society, and ‘poetry’ as an idea has political force. 18 But the creative artist and his ideals were isolated from society, and it was only at the time of William Morris “that the gap between poetic vision and political practice was significantly narrowed”. 18 Art/lit past and present began to be seen as an unchanging object, the ‘aesthetic’, ‘art’, no purpose but an end in itself above ordinary life. 19 The Symbol was at the centre of aesthetic theory at turn of...
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