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What is Literature?
Language Department
IPGK Pendidikan Teknik

Based on your experience learning
literature, what is literature? What
are the characteristics of literature?
Do you need to learn literature?

•  Traditionally,
literature is
“imaginative”
writing.

•  However, the
distinction between
“real” and “fake” or
“fact” and “fiction”
isn’t always a good
distinction; many
classical works
were non-fiction.

Literature is Subjective
•  Since the 1980’s, the “literary canon”
of works – a group of works “agreed
upon” to be “the best” by well-known
scholars and critics, has been
disputed.

Why do you think the “canon” was
disputed?

•  The “Canon” excluded most works that were
not by white, European males.
•  Works of literature by women, homosexuals,
and works by individuals of varied races,
classes and ethnicities were marginalised.

How did this happen?
•  There are many ways of “writing” – but
those in power recognised only one, formal
way of “writing”, and this was given the
higher value.
•  Thus, the literary “canon” is a construct; it
was fashioned by particular people for
particular reasons at a particular time.

•  There is no literary work or tradition
that has value in and of itself …
•  ….even Shakespeare!

•  In his era, Shakespeare was regarded as a
hack!
•  Time and circumstance has offered the
value to particular text; and this “value” is a
transitive term – it will change as the people
in power change and are altered, and
according to the context of the reading of a
particular text.

10 years ago ….
•  BLOGS were stupid.
•  NOW, Iraq War Veterans’ BLOGS
are considered vital historic and
“literary” documents!

Revisioning the Canon:
•  All “literary” works are unconsciously
rewritten by the societies that read
them.

Context
•  Readers interpret literary works in the
light of their own concerns.
•  Readers interpret literary works in the
light of a given circumstances.
•  Readers interpret literary works in the
light of a given time period.

The Diary of Anne Frank:
•  Literature? Or Not?

I Have A Dream:
•  Is this speech by Martin Luther King,
Jr. Literature? Or Not?

Literature and “value”
•  Each of us is
constructed by
experiences and
backgrounds and
emotions and
ideas and
prejudices and
knowledge and
lack of knowledge


•  How we each
respond to a
particular text is
deeply entwined
with our broader
prejudices and
belief systems.

Basic Definition of Literature
•  Latin – litterae (plural for letter)
•  Literally means “acquaintance with letters”

Why
 Do
 We
 Study
 Literature?
 
•  To
 obtain
 a
 window
 of
 the
 world
 and
 other
 
cultures.
 
•  To
 understand
 ourselves
 (how?).
 
•  To
 gain
 insights
 into
 a
 character’s
 inner
 
thoughts,
 conflicts,
 aspirations
 etc.
 
•  To
 actively
 shape
 culture
 through
 the
 
active
 and
 articulate
 constructions
 of
 
sociocultural
 realities.
 

So … what is literature?
•  What constitutes a “literary” text?
•  What qualities will help me to
determine the “literariness” of a text?
•  Read “What is Literature” by
Jim Meyer for our class discussion
this Thursday.

Thank You

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