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Defining literature is a hard task. Many people know what it is but are unable to explain it. Brian Moon defines literature as:
“A shifting category of texts defined by a complex combination of factors including textual features and value judgements.”
Literature is language that portrays certain qualities. These qualities are: an impact on the audience, a good use of the resource of language and the style used by the author, which should appeal to the reader. To help define literature it is imperative to provide examples from works classified as literature.
Literature can be found in many styles such as poems, novels, letters and art. In any form it will have an impact on the reader and will often shape or change the reader’s views on areas of human life. Three of the main areas which literature will effect are the religious, social and personal view of the reader. It is often people who have strong and high views in these areas that will have a big say in what is classified as literature.
Weevilly Porridge by Eva Johnson looks at the topic of aboriginal treatment by white people in the late 1800’s – 1950’s. The topic is a pressing issue today in Australian society and poems such as these help everyone understand about the issue of Aboriginal treatment by white people.
A good use of the resource of language is essential for a text to be defined as literary. A good use of the resource of language would include use of syntax, structure, literal and metaphorical levels and imaginative, descriptive and complex language.
An example of well crafted language and also a strong value judgement is in the poem Beauty by Grace Nichols. It emphasises the point that beauty is not all about looks by using metaphors and imagery.
Is a fat black woman
Walking in the fields
Pressing a breezed hibiscus
To her cheek
While the sun lights up
Not everyone will agree on wether a text is to be considered literature or not. Dominant groups in determining what is literature are religious groups, education and law systems. Their role is to establish works that should be classified as literature. If they say something is to be classified as literature then is usually is. This is not to say that if a cleaning lady from McDonalds considers a text to be literature it will be dismissed. It depends on reader context. An intellectual man, high up in society and the cleaning lady from McDonalds will have different values, economic status, gender maybe even religion or race. These things will decide what they both consider to be good literature
The inclusion of texts to be literature can differ from society to society. This is because of the different reader and writer contexts. For example a non-religious person may not find the Bible entertaining, as it doesn t fit their context. Different value systems of different cultural groups also play a big part in what is considered literature. In war stricken countries a poem such as Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen which is an anti war poem would be cherished but in a country like Australia where peace is taken for granted a poem about peace would also be taken for granted.
If a text is to be considered of great literary importance it will be entered in the literary canon. Just what will be included in the canon is widely debated. Some say the literary canon exists only in our own minds. If we look back in the literary canon you find a list of value judgements and social ideologies. This outlines again the point that to be considered a literary text it must have meaning and portray a social issue or value judgement,
Literature is language in any style that conveys a value judgement or strong meaning. It features well crafted, descriptive, metaphorical language and is written in a form that will appeal to the reader. To enjoy a text and therefore define it as Literature. It has to be written in according to our culture and values. If a work is considered a classic, timeless piece it will be entered in the literary canon. Literature is and always will be an asset in one’s culture.
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