Why Study Literature?

By Jan Alber; Stefan Iversen et al. | Go to book overview
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Morten Kyndrup

The Modern history of the development of the interrelationship between individual medialities and levels of inter- or trans-mediality is very complex. There are many reasons for this. One of them is the fact that a fair number of standard explanations, the idees reçus of this story, on closer examination turn out to be more or less ideologically biased and often even substantially counterfactual. This holds true all the way down to the very term “medium”, which presupposes the idea of “something” being mediated, and which thereby seems to ignore the materiality of mediality itself on a very basic level as if this materiality were detachable from the engendering of “meaning”.1

As a consequence, literature’s specific and somewhat peculiar position among medialities and art forms can by no means be described in few words. However, it is possible to highlight a couple of key events which have had and continue to have a significant influence on the formation of this specific position. One of these would be modernity’s inclusion of what had hitherto been conceived of as the arts (in the plural), into one “Art as such” divided into art forms. This conceptual change was fully realized during the eighteenth century, and from then on it has made sense to conceive of the art forms as vehicles which in different ways express the “same”; hence the collective singular “art”. This “same” might take the shape of a principle (Batteux 1746), or may become the backdrop for directly discussing the art forms comparatively (Lessing 1766). The singular art forms thus became and have remained different roads to or expressions of the “same”, that is, art as such, including and emphasizing art’s increasing autonomy, its elevated aura, its exposure of a privileged (“aesthetic”) experience. This process tied

1 This is one of the reasons why we make use of the term “mediality” and not just “medium” in this context. Where substantial impacts of media’s material constitution are concerned, see in general the work of Friedrich Kittler, for instance (Kittler 1995).


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Why Study Literature?


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