Monday, January 5, 2009

What Is Literature? (2)

10-second Literature Reviews
Compiled By RayS.

I read once that some authors have written books because no one else had written what they wanted to read.

I did not “write” this book, of course. But I compiled it because, as an English major, I always wished that I had had available a brief overview, in chronological order, of the world’s major literary works. Such standard reference works as Benet’s’ Reader’s Encyclopedia and the Oxford Companions are not in chronological order, and even their brief summaries of literary works are not short enough for my purpose of an overview that can be read in a reasonably short time.

These “10-second reviews” are certainly not meant to be comprehensive. They can do no more than give an idea of the subject and flavor of the literary work. But they give the reader an idea of the flow of literature over the centuries, from the ancient past to relatively modern times (the mid-1950s).

The next question is, “What is literature?” Here are some more thoughts on the subject by some pretty respectable literary critics and writers:

“Someone once said—and I am quoting most inexactly—‘A writer who manages to look a little more deeply into his own soul or the soul of others, finding there, through his gift, things that no other man has ever seen or dared to say, has increased the range of human life.” F. Scott Fitzgerald in F. Scott Fitzgerald on Writing, p. 20.

“So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes….” Emerson, Nature, p. 48.

“To have great poets, there must be great audiences too.” Walt Whitman in Plimpton, ed. The Writer’s Chapbook, p. 90.

“…[Euripides] could so write as to show the hideousness of cruelty and men’s fierce passions, and the piteousness of suffering, weak, and wicked human beings, and move men thereby to the compassion which they were learning to forget.” E. Hamilton, The Greek Way, p. 262.

“Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism, what will be grasped at once.” Plimpton, ed. The Writer’s Chapbook, p. 256.

To be continued.

No comments:

Post a Comment