On Literature

On Literature

On Literature

On Literature

Synopsis

Debates rage over what kind of literature we should read, what is good and bad literature, and whether in the global, digital age, literature even has a future. But what exactly is literature? Why should we read literature? How do we read literature? These are some of the important questions J. Hillis Miller answers in this beautifully written and passionate book. He begins by asking what literature is, arguing that the answer lies in literature's ability to create an imaginary world simply with words. On Literature also asks the crucial question of why literature has such authority over us. Returning to Plato, Aristotle and the Bible, Miller argues we should continue to read literature because it is part of our basic human need to create imaginary worlds and to have stories. Above all, On Literature is a plea that we continue to read and care about literature.

Excerpt

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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