What is Literature?

This seems like a fastidious thing to debate but bare with me.

The Debate

‘What is literature’ has been a hot topic of discussion for centuries, definition has always been important for academics, and they spend a large amount of time on prolonged discussions of outdated ideas. This also means new genres or contributions to literature won’t make it on the agenda for a few more decades.

Countless essays and books have been written to argue on the point of what makes literary writing literary, and not just ordinary. Often, however, these essays were written simply to argue that a genre (penny journals during the 19th century, for example) has no literary value on offer. The whole debate can easily turn into a dull gyrating war of terminology.

However, the whole debate can be simplified and broken down into two parts:

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When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head

“Gilbert prided himself on being an unusually well-informed man. No doubt the sun did too. No doubt the sun knew why the clouds formed and why the wind blew and why the lizards basked in its warmth, and all this immense knowledge made the sun gay and bright, full of trust and affection for mankind. But there were shut-away worlds, full of mistrust and hate, and it was about this side that Makhaya was particularly well informed.” (p. 89)

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Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie 

“How [do you] explain to the earth that it was more functional as a vegetable patch than a flower garden, just as factories were more functional than schools and boys were more functional as weapons than as humans.”
Kamila Shamsie, Burnt Shadows

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Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

I usually don’t like to read books that simply by their title suggest there will be tears but this text takes a well known subject and turns it into an original piece of literature. Based on the real story of Ivan Mishukov, the narrative follows little Romochka and his pack around Moscow as they learn to provide for their little family.

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