Monday, September 10, 2007

Definitions of Literature

Some framing definitions of literature, which differentiate literature from non-literature: a framework for answering the research question "are graphic novels literature?"

Plato: “that which instructs by delighting.”
• Its character as mimesis forces on it a profound ontological alienation from true reality.
• Artistic mimesis addresses itself essential to the emotional, rather than the intellectual, aspect of the psyche.
Aristotle: that which pleases and sustains interest of the audience.
• Mimesis: fundamental part of human nature, from our desire to know. I.e. homo sapiens.
• hamartia (injury committed unknowingly) creates katharsis through the faculty of sympathy.
• peripateia (reversal of circumstance) – anagnorisis (recognition)
• so-called three unities.

Aquinas: that which serves the Good.

Dr. Johnson: that which endures; that which Time retains.
• "The reverence due to writings that have long subsisted arises therefore not from any credulous confidence in the superior wisdom of past ages, or gloomy persuasion of the degeneracy of mankind, but is the consequence of acknowledged and indubitable positions, that what has been longest known has been most considered, and what is most considered is best understood."

Ethnological: that which tells the story of a tribe, nation or civilisation.


1. Functionalist: that which works as literature: i.e. that people use as literature.
a. i.e. Publishing, Marketing.
2. Institutional: that which is taught as literature.
3. Canonical: that which contains and can perpetuate central, significant and eruditely-judged standards of literature.
4. Reductivist or Eliminativist: whatever is said to be literature.
5. Egotistical-Hedonistic: that which I like is literature.
6. Elitist: that which the cognoscenti read and write: that which is inaccessible to mass culture. (c.f. The Frankfurt School)
[ pretentiousness can unite 5 & 6….. ]
7. Formal: Acquaintance with ‘letters’ or books.
i. “letters” was the ability to read: hence, a social definition.
ii. Graphic Novels: “Written New Things”
. “graphic” a pleonasm?
. Illustrated literature with a plot, theme & character?

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