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