What is Literature?

One

FAREWELL LITERATURE?

The end of literature is at hand. Literature's time is almost up. It is about time. It is about, that is, the different epochs of different media. Literature, in spite of its approaching end, is nevertheless perennial and universal. It will survive all historical and technological changes. Literature is a feature of any human culture at any time and place. These two contradictory premises must govern all serious reflection “on literature” these days.

What brings about this paradoxical situation? Literature has a history. I mean “literature” in the sense we in the West use the word in our various languages: “literature” (French or English) “letteratura” (Italian), “literatura” (Spanish), “Literatur” (German). As Jacques Derrida observes in Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, the word literature comes from a Latin stem. It cannot be detached from its Roman-Christian-European roots. Literature in our modern sense, however, appeared in the European West and began in the late seventeenth century, at the earliest. Even then the word did not have its modern meaning. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “literature” was first used in our current sense only quite recently. Even a definition of “literature” as including memoirs, history, collections of letters, learned treatises, etc., as well as poems, printed plays, and

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On Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • One - What is Literature? 1
  • Two - Literature as Virtual Reality 24
  • Three - The Secret of Literature 46
  • Four - Why Read Literature? 81
  • Five - How to Read Literature 115
  • Six - How to Read Comparatively, or Playing the Mug's Game 132
  • Index 160
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