Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What is literature?

So, this is different from the other posts in that it's not a story.  Inspired by a class conversation, I got to wondering what actually constitutes literature in today's society.  Obviously novels of any sort would constitute literature, but what about blog posts? or tweets? Do those count?  I personally would count magazine articles from sources like National Geographic or Rolling Stone as literature, but I don't know if I'd consider an article from Seventeen or People magazine that is just sort of gossip as literature.  I feel as though what I like to write is a form of literature, obviously it's not GREAT literature, but it counts nonetheless.  Newspaper articles will I think always count as literature, but they are clearly different from books which are the prime example of, I think, what the average person thinks of as literature.

In the class that inspired this discussion, letters from Christopher Columbus were being considered as literature, but this was in a time when formal letters were fairly common I feel so why should it be studied?  In 600 years, will our e-mails and text message conversations be studied? Is that what will constitute literature for our time?  We don't consider those things literature now I think, but then what is the boundary for literature?  I think the best way to answer that is that it depends on the time period and personal ideas.  Columbus's letters count because it was an important time of discovery and they were written by someone right in the middle of the action of the times.  A letter written today (if anybody still writes them), would probably only be considered literature if it was by some important political, scientific or social figure about important topics being discussed at that time.  If I wrote a letter to my girlfriend, I don't think would quite make the cut, unless I become absurdly famous for my writings and future generations want to see how my personal writings differ from any potential professional ones.   However, in this age of the internet thousands upon thousands of people are writing all sorts of different things.  Do the comedic articles from sites like Cracked.com or The Onion count as actual literature?  That is, would future generations study it in order to find out more about our time period?  Hopefully nobody from anytime would take The Onion seriously in any way, but I don't think it's far-fetched to consider these popular websites, who do actual writing, to be considered a form of literature for our time.

So then, if we are to consider solely electronic media such as blogs and websites literature, what then will the future consider literature?  What if actual paper books and newspapers cease to be a thing?  The only option in that situation would be to acknowledge e-books and online newspapers, whether in print or not as literature.  Then you must ask yourself where to draw the line.  Are the short 140 character tweets literature? What about paragraph long Facebook updates? Can anyone create literature or must you be of a certain skill level or social class?  Where do we draw the limits?  If letters from centuries ago are considered literature, when that was the only way to communicate, where is the line?  Hemingway wrote a six word story, is that considered literature simply because of who wrote it?  If "Baby shoes, for sale, never worn." is a piece of literature, why can't we consider tweets, many of which are longer than that, literature? I'm not saying there is an answer to these questions.  I'm just asking you to think about it.  It's not easy, but I feel that a word some may take for granted does not have such an easy definition.

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