What Is Literature

Topics: Literature, Fiction, Literary criticism Pages: 147 (50849 words) Published: March 28, 2013
Debates rage over what kind of literature we should read, what is good and bad literature, and whether in the global, digital age, literature even has a future. But what exactly is literature? Why should we read literature? How do we read literature? These are some of the important questions J. Hillis Miller answers in this beautifully written and passionate book. J. Hillis Miller begins by asking what literature is, arguing that the answer lies in literature’s ability to create an imaginary world simply with words. He describes how his early reading of The Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe as a child led him to this view. He then discusses several famous writers who have used literature in this way, from Dostoevsky, Trollope, Proust and Henry James to Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida and J. M. Coetzee. Along the way he explains deftly why little-known aspects of such writers matter so much, from Trollope’s “daydreaming” to the crafted realism of James’s novels. On Literature also askes the crucial questions of why we should read literature today and why literature has such authority over us. Returning to Plato, Aristotle and the Bible, J. Hillis Miller argues we should continue to read literature because it is part of our basic human need to create imaginary worlds and to have stories. Though he has some nostalgia for such “innocent reading,” he cautions us to reflect on these worlds of innocence in a critical vein. On Literature is a plea that we continue to read and care about literature. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the future of literature, of reading, and what literature can tell us about the human condition. J. Hillis Miller is UCI Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Irvine. He taught himself to read at the age of five so he could read Alice in Wonderland and has been reading ever since. He is author of several well-known books, including The Ethics of Reading.

Thinking in Action
Series editors: Simon Critchley, University of Essex, and Richard Kearney, University College Dublin and Boston College. Thinking in Action is a major new series that takes philosophy to its public. Each book in the series is written by a major international philosopher or thinker, engages with an important contemporary topic, and is clearly and accessibly written. The series informs and sharpens debate on issues as wide ranging as the Internet, religion, the problem of immigration and refugees and the way we think about science. Punchy, short, and stimulating, Thinking in Action is an indispensable starting point for anyone who wants to think seriously about major issues confronting us today. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness Jacques Derrida On Immigration and Refugees Michael Dummett On Science B. K. Ridley On the Internet Hubert L. Dreyfus On Religion John D. Caputo ˇˇ On Belief Slavoj Zizek On Stories Richard Kearney On Humour Simon Critchley On Film Stephen Mulhall On Literature J. Hillis Miller On the Meaning of Life John Cottingham On Authenticity Charles Guignon



London and New York

First published 2002 by Routledge 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 1001

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group
This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2004. © 2002 J. Hillis Miller All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

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