Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What Is Literature? (3)

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:

“[Literature]…may lead to questions that you spend your life trying to answer.” N. Franklin, The New Yorker, December 15, 1997, p. 64.

“Special attention [according to Samuel Johnson] should be given to those [works] that have persisted beyond a particular age or locality, for what the majority of intelligent and discriminating people persist in valuing over different periods of time can greatly assist us toward a flexible standard for judging what will continue to appeal.” Bate, Criticism: The Major Texts, p. 205.

“A true classic is an author who has enriched the human mind….” Sainte-Beauve in Bate, Criticism: The Major Texts, p. 492.

“…Cervantes and Molieres: practical painters of life…who laughingly embrace all mankind, turn man’s experience to gaiety, and know the powerful working of a sensible, hearty, and legitimate joy.” Sainte-Beauve in Bate, Criticism: The Major Texts, p. 495.

“Richards had reasserted…the ancient classical belief that art acts formatively in enlarging one’s sensibility, deepening one’s sympathies, and inducing a more organized and harmonious ability to experience life.” Bate, Criticism: The Major Texts, 574.

To be continued.

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