Week 1 – Literature Manifesto

This week I’m asked what ‘Literature’ means – to me, and then to analyze what some other people have said about it and give my own thoughts. It’s all opinions. Are you ready for some opinions?


I don’t like to tie things down and label them… but I do what I’m told!

To me, Literature is –

  • A communication that creates an effect. Whether it’s imparting some ‘truth’ or evoking some sort of atmosphere of within the reader.
  • In my mind, usually based on words. Even a silent movie has a script. A painting doesn’t… Though it’d be interesting to see one that did…
  • All equally ‘important.’ What’s important and what’s not is all arbitrary. In something like literature even more so. Sure, some authors are notable for revolutionizing this or that convention. But all texts are different and therefore equally ‘important,’ from an objective viewpoint.
  • No concrete qualities like ‘verbose’ or ‘complex.’ This is literature. It’s a huge umbrella term. That’s just like saying all paintings are yellow.

To some anonymous quote people, Literature is –

Literature is timelessit reveals universal truths about human nature, because human nature itself is constant and unchanging. People are pretty much the same everywhere, in all ages and in all cultures.

I can’t really disagree with this. Though really, if you look close enough everything’s ultimately chemicals. Not the core of literature in my mind, but definitely important and something literature can do.

Literature teaches us about the world and how we should live.

At first thought this was a bit restrictive, but in the end it’s impossible to write about anything that isn’t somehow to do with where or how we live. So touché.

Literature uses language to represent, recreate, and explore human experience.

I question this on a technicality. I’m willing to believe there is at least one piece of proper literature specifically about non-human ideas and perspectives. What with post-modernism these days the whole thing’s pretty much inevitable. In the grand scheme of things humanity isn’t all that important. Literature’s sorta our invention so it probably will centre on us. But let’s not assume a total monopoly on the market.

Literature is ‘different’. It is writing of the highest quality an expression of the most worthy thoughts of the best minds.

I object to this. Who decides what minds are most ‘worthy?’ Only super-geniuses can write literature now? Okay, so maybe the most erudite, thought-provoking books will get all the attention. But that doesn’t make what some other guy has to say any less important. Was ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ not important literature? Was she a NASA scientist? All literature has to do is

Literature is not meant to just entertain us. You have to be highly intelligent to really appreciate it.

Okay I guess I agree in a way. You have to think to get the big allegories. But again, all literature? And again with the ‘highly intelligent.’ Look who’s a bit full of themselves. Suddenly ‘literature’ feels like some kind of aristocratic croquet society.

‘We are better than you.’

Literature is imaginative and creative.

I can get behind this so long as we keep it more of a guideline. It can be. If it wants.

Literature is structured and complex. It is usually hard to read.

Not necessarily my idea of a definition but yeah, the good ones tend to be a bit of a puzzle. Why can’t we just say what we want to say without all the codes?

Because no-one reads Non-Orwell essays for fun.

Literature can be factual or fictional; it can include visual texts and the spoken word.

I like this because it’s open. It doesn’t judge or prescribe.  I don’t think it’s all that important to have a big wall between what’s literature and what’s not anyway. Is there anyone out there who’s really going to start throwing up if they realize they’re reading a book that isn’t deemed worthy of the title ‘literature?’

Literature is: art with words for colours.

Duuude. Deep. But yeah okay. I can dig that. Copasetic.

In the end, it’s ‘Literature.’ It’s a word we made up to distinguish one form of things we create from another. We like building walls between things. Everything has to be catalogued and sub-dived into phylums and species. It’s just an arbitrary guideline. It doesn’t mean anything.

So yeah. I’ve officially invalidated my own subject. Can I take the rest of VCE off now?


One thought on “Week 1 – Literature Manifesto

  1. Thanks for sharing these thoughts Isaac. I guess definitions have a problem breaking out of stereotypes! I did enjoy reading your comments and imagining you wrestling with those anonymous pronouncements…

    and NO…you can’t take the rest of VCE off…you need to stay focussed and keep me on my toes!

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