At what point does a novel become literature?

The title isn’t mine. I came across it while browsing the net.

But it’s an intriguing question: at what point does a novel become literature? I took a wild guess: when it’s any good, perhaps? I don’t know … I’m only guessing.

But I must be wrong: I had a quick glance at the article attached to the headline, and it didn’t seem to touch at any point on the concept of literary quality. But I do learn that:

While some intellectuals continue to canonize individual works and authors, others argue that the very concept of literature is at best subjective and at worst oppressive.

Good heavens! Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to oppress anyone…

So I’ll hand this matter over to all you readers out there. It is, after all, fraught question: “At what point point does a novel become literature?”

Any ideas welcome, but please do keep it non-oppressive.

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41 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John Henrick on March 16, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Aldous Huxley titled one of his finest novels Point Counterpoint, a chiasmus of sorts.

    Reply

    • Brave New World is, of course, Huxley’s best know, but I’ve long thought that his best work are those early novels, so full of with and sparkle – Crome Yellow, Antic Hay, and Point Counter Point.

      Reply

  2. Posted by kaggsysbookishramblings on March 16, 2016 at 11:38 am

    What a silly concept – literature is *not* oppressive and I would say it’s when something stands the test of time – we are not likely to be reading “50 Shades” in 100 years (or at least I hope not….)

    Reply

    • I think actually that’s probably the only objective crietrion there can be … does it pass the test of time? Of course, it may well be that there are some fine works, or even masterpieces, that have been unjustly neglected, and forgotten. But if something survives, there must be a reason why it has done so.

      Sadly, the concept of “literary quality” seems to have fallen by the wayside, and even insisting upon it is seen as – quite risisbly – “oppressive”. Literature is seen by so many as a means of asserting one’s identity. But ofcourse, if you don’t even believe in the concept of quality, then you must talk about something else – and identity will do as well as anything else.

      When I came across the word “oppressive” in that article I linked to, I must admit I burst out laughing. It reminded me of that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail … “‘Ere! did you see him oppressing me there? Now we can see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I’m being oppressed!”

      Reply

  3. I use your definition, Himadri, with no amendment.

    Reply

    • Indeed – if we are to distinguish writing that is “literature” from writing that isn’t, I don’t really see how we can get away from the concept of quality. Now, what constitutes quality is another matter of course, and is not something easily answered: this is why we endlessly discuss literature, on blogs and elsewhere. But if we do not even so much as believe in quality, there is nothing to discuss!

      Reply

  4. when it teaches, entertains, and strikes a chord of recognition in almost everyone who reads it.

    Reply

    • Hello, and welcome to the blog.

      Teaching, entertaining, striking chords of recognition, are all, I agree, criteria of literary merit, although I guess it can be argued that none of them in itself is either a necessary or a sufficient criterion. I don’t criteria of merit can be defined that are either necessary or sufficient: this is why discussion, debate, etc. are so important!

      All the best, Himadri

      Reply

  5. Posted by ombhurbhuva on March 16, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Relativism is the new orthodoxy. That site seems to be aimed at high school students. It has a vaguely educational aspect to it but founders in its mania for lists which are surely based on some criterion. Get a relativist to talk about that which they feel they know something and the ascription of value will soon emerge.

    Reply

    • “Get a relativist to talk about that which they feel they know something and the ascription of value will soon emerge.” – good one, true, an aphorism.

      Reply

    • Get a relativist to talk about that which they feel they know something and the ascription of value will soon emerge

      I see Tom has beaten me to it, but this is absolutely spot on

      Do be warned – I shall be recycling this in future blog posts without attribution! 🙂

      .

      Reply

      • “Get a relativist to talk about that which they feel they know something and the ascription of value will soon emerge.” Brilliant!

    • Posted by ombhurbhuva on March 17, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      Thanks Himdari et al,
      I am oppressed by your appreciation, festooned by chains and books like Marley’s ghost, Thanks.

      Reply

  6. Posted by shonti mukherjee on March 16, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    A novel becomes literature when melvyn bragg likes it

    Reply

  7. Words, words, words…. Literature is one of those slippery terms which can include everything from the documentation which came with your new refrigerator to parchment fragments rescued from the cliffs above the Dead Sea. Or it can be the canonized output of dead white males who inhabited the British Isles. That is pretty much what it was when I went to college, but I found it more misguided than oppressive.

    Does the author of the pretentious abstractions you quoted ever get around to defining the term “literature” or do we each cozily assume we know it when we read it? And why pick on novels, anyway? If we are going to decide what is or is not literature, doesn’t every form of writing have to be judged?

    Reply

    • Hello Nancy,
      To be fair on the writer of this piece, she is reporting on the current state of affairs without necessarily subscribing to any of them. But it is telling, nonetheless, that an article can be written on the question of what constitutes literature without any mention of quality.

      The author does indeed acknowledge, quite rightly, that “literature” is an “amorphous” term. But you raise another important question in why we should be restricting ourselves to novels. this is something that I have long noticed: when people talk about “literature” or about “books”, they almost invariably mean novels, rather than poetry, drama, essays, short stories, etc. It does seem a very restrictive view of literature.

      Cheers, Himadri

      Reply

    • Posted by Janet on March 16, 2016 at 6:51 pm

      Yeah, it’s interesting that people don’t even take other forms of writing into account–novels seem to be the only flash point. Poetry is not even on the radar, and essays, histories, memoirs can be utterly crummy without raising many hackles. Interesting.

      But those other forms tend to affect people at a less deeply personal level (strange to say about poetry, but as most people don’t read poetry, I guess that accounts for that). Novels deliver a powerful emotional/psychological experience that readers really get off on, so if you tell someone that a book they love and which is part of their soul isn’t “literature,” they are going to get all bent out of shape about it. No matter how you try to define literature, they will see their favorites as meeting those qualifications. Unless you start setting metrics, such as word length and sentence structure and complexity–in other words, making it hard. But then, many works, such as To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men would have to be eliminated as too easy. In fact, no matter what standards you set up, some great books will prove to be exceptions.

      Probably writers should just write about what matters to them as well as they can and readers can pick out what appeals to them. People with more rarefied tastes will (hopefully) find works that are compelling on all the right levels, and over time some works will last and some will not. Some will be “rediscovered” after fifty or a hundred years of obscurity. Some deliberately literary works will disappear and some less than literary works will benefit from the patina of long popular enjoyment.

      People misunderstand the purpose of a canon. For some strange reason, they take it as some kind of nasty prescription, a measure by which they can feel either inadequate or persecuted. There is no One Canon. There are just listicles compiled by people or committees who wish to articulate a number of their top picks. The works they choose are based on criteria that are meaningful to them, and their reasons should be taken into account when weighing how helpful a particular canon is going to be for your own purposes. The more seriously considered canons, such as Adler’s, weren’t designed to be whipped through like a NetFlix best 100 list. These are works that are part of the the bedrock of western civilization–a big category but still a limited one. There are plenty of works that aren’t included on this one list that are of great worth. Harold Bloom said (paraphrasing) there are so many good books you can’t possibly read them all in one lifetime–in other words, they won’t all fit on any one list.

      Bloom, of course, followed up with: so why waste time reading bad books?

      Most less serious lists are designed for people who simply love to read. These lists will have Harry Potter but not Thucydides, but they also usually include classics such as Wuthering Heights and literary novels such as The Name of the Rose or A Bend in the River, neither of which has had to stand the test of time to be considered “literature.”

      Personally, I have a thing for Mickey Spillane and Louis L’Amour. These “bad” books are ridiculously fun, so that explains that. And these books do possess certain merits in common with “good” books, without which literature would be boring and therefore not literature. So it goes.

      I like Flannery O’Connor’s idea that a “serious” writer begins at the surface and works his/her way down. Books about shopping and kinky sex and only about shopping and kinky sex are all about the surface, and that’s fine for readers who enjoy that kind of reading experience. Literature is not about that. It may use the same subject matter for fodder, but it is about what’s “underneath.” So I think a book can be “good,” but not what I call literature. “Good” in this sense can be wildly subjective and personal; “literature” is also subjective, but more narrowly so because my criteria are drawn from qualitative standards rather than my own experience of enjoyment.

      Which means that some works of literature don’t appeal to me, and some merely good books do. I think we should resist the temptation to call anything we like “literature” and anything we don’t like “bad.” Readers shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed for enjoying Twilight–rather, I would hope that such a reader might take a whack at Wuthering Heights, and from there to Northanger Abbey, and from there to Mysteries of Udolpho, and eventually make their way to Paradise Lost, and ultimately the Book of Job. Conversely, being well-read is not in itself a form of snobbery, though I have met many a snob among the “well-read.” Literature, unfortunately, is sometimes used as a wall to divide the “smart” from the “dumb,” which misses the point of the whole subject of all literature–what it means to be human.

      Reply

      • Hello Janet, and thank you for your beautifully written and thought-out comment above. There have certainly been occasions on this blog when the quality of the comments has far surpassed the quality of the post on which they are commenting, but never has the discrepancy been greater, I think, with this post, which took me all of 5 minutes to put together!

        I hadn’t actually intended to get into the complexities of what makes a canon, in what sense if any a canon is important, and so on. My intention was merely to point out the absurdity of talking about “what makes literature” without even mentioning the concept of quality. I suppose it has been one of the running themes of this blog that, all too often, literature has been made the battle-ground for identity politics. We get people seriously telling us that Shakespeare’s plays were “colonising texts”, that children won’t respond to literature unless they encountered more characters of their own ethnic background, and so on. (I won’t link to the various posts in which I have spoken of this kind of thing.) But really – if literary quality is not deemed to be important, what else is there to talk about?

        The concept of quality is, of course, a difficult one. You rightly highlight the pointlessness of setting measures against which works can be valued as literature or otherwise. After all, to define is to limit, and we should not even be attempting to set limits here. Each major work of literature defines its own values: the idea of judging them in terms of some pre-conceived criteria is ridiculous. We need to determine the value of each work on its own individual terms.That makes discussion difficult, of course, but then again, no-one claimed that discussing literature is easy. And it is because the standards that make for literary quality are so elusive that discussion can be so rewarding.But if one doesn’t admit of literary standards in the first place; if one takes a relativist approach, and claim that there is nothing beyond subjectivity; then there is nothing to discuss – and one might as well talk of identity politics as anything else.

        For me, a “canon” is simply a consensus:it is a list of works, by no means exhaustive or infallible, of works that exemplify what we understand by “quality”. And as soon as we accept that quality is important, and that not all works are of comparable quality, the concept of a “canon” becomes inevitable. This is true not merely in literature, but n any field of human activity. The concept of a hierarchy in terms of quality is often sneered at, but as onbhurbhuva memorably says in one of the comments here. “Get a relativist to talk about that which they feel they know something and the ascription of value will soon emerge”.

        Thank you once again for your comment: it makes my offhand and rather casual post above seem rather trite and thoughtless!

        All the best, Himadri

  8. I’ve stopped using the term “literature” except in the broadest sense, as a body of writing. When people ask me what I like to read, I talk about whatever book I’m currently reading, whatever play I’ve just seen, etc. I try to think in terms of good versus bad books, which is just as subjective as “literary/non-literary” but you can get to specifics about individual novels more quickly.

    Still, if you put an oppressive gun to my head and demanded an answer, I’d say that a novel becomes literature when I buy a copy of it and don’t throw it into the recycling bin after reading it. So there are a great many novels sitting in the world’s “pending judgment” queue; you’ll all just have to be patient with me.

    Reply

    • Yes, I think that’s wisest. The Recycling Bin Test is a good one – unless, of course, you’re a compulsive hoarder like me!

      But we can’t rally help classifying in some way or other – can we? Whether it’s literature or non-literature, good book or bad book …

      Nor is there singing school but studying
      Monuments of its own magnificence

      Not that we’d want to create a league table of literature – that’s just silly: but neither would we, I think, wish to rate books on the basis of the identity of the reader, and of the writer. That’s probably even sillier!

      I propose that we determine for ourselves, using our judgement as best we can, what is good, what is bad, and what is middling. And that we then debate it out in our blogs. And that we laugh to scorn those who think debate is mere exchange of unsupported opinion.

      At least, that’s what I’d do if only I had the energy…

      Cheers, Himadri

      Reply

      • Yes, you and I know that we use “literature” as a shorthand for a wide variety of art that seems to us to have raised itself above mere entertainment and grasps at the status of art, whatever that means. We know that the canon is permeable, in flux, limitless and open to new works, and is not a private club nor a club with which to beat down our inferiors, and that artworks have specific merits that can be weighed and debated to our profit as thinking humans. You and I know that.

        I am a compulsive hoarder, which is what makes the Bin Test so accurate. I rarely bin anything. Maybe the Cash Register test is more crucial, the initial testing phase.

        “we laugh to scorn those who think debate is mere exchange of unsupported opinion” is good. I’m adding it to my family crest.

  9. I think that literature, if it is to last, must hold in it some quality of Truth that speaks to a reader, regardless of era. I suppose that sounds trite, but what the heck.
    I think one of the problems right now with the Canon is that, for so long, very few people have had the opportunity to contribute to it: I am referring to the Western Canon of literature, but I’m guessing (though I don’t know, of course) that this is probably a trend in any society wherein a select group of people had the leisure time to write. As the leisure class often corresponds with race/gender/class lines, other voices are often excluded.
    What we’re seeing now is a valid demand that other voices arising from different experiences be recognized and valued. Related to this, at least in American literature, is a distrust of the Canon, which by and large, has been white and male.
    The pendulum has swung and there is a movement to break the glass ceiling of orthodoxy. Other writers want in, they want to be Canonical. The question is with the breakdown of an objective litmus, how is their work judged?

    Reply

    • So, I guess we’re back once again to the main point, LOL

      Reply

    • Hello,

      I think it is true that the only objective criterion possible is whether or not a book lasts the test of time. But books pass that test for very different reasons. Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been around for more than a century, say, and its popularity shows no sign of declining. The Three Musketeers has been around for even longer. A Thousand and One Nights has been around for longer still. I don’t know that any of these works contains any “profound quality of Truth” – but they have lasted for different reasons: they have lasted because they are wonderful entertainments, and because they continue to entertain.

      It is perhaps not surprising that canons compiled by Western readers tend to be dominated by Western writers. Neither is it particularly surprising that a canon put together by someone knowledgeable about Indian literature will contain writers who wrote in Sanskrit, Pali, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, etc. Nor that canons put together by Japanese readers will be dominated by Japanese books. Or that canons compiled by those fortunate enough to be able to read Persian poetry in the original are likely to include Ferdowsi, Rumi, Sa’adi, etc. In short, canons of literary traditions from around the world are by no means all white.

      As for being predominantly male, it is a very sad fact that, historically, the scope offered to women to develop and practise their literary skills weas very limited at best, and often non-existent. It is certainly a great injustice of history, but that is not really a reason to denigrate works created by men, just because they were created by men. And as for being dead – well, if we’re looking at works that have survived the Test of Time, most of ’em will be dead, I think: it’s hardly their fault!

      What this is all leading to is that I can’t really accept the “Dead White Male” formulation. If the work itself is of artistic merit, I don’t really care what the identity of the author was. And I find myself deeply troubled by the co-opting of literature into our modern obsession with identity politics. But I have ranted against that in this blog often enough, so I’ll give it a rest for now.

      But it still bothers me that articles can be written about what constitutes literature without so much as a mention of “quality”. If we do not believe in quality, why are we bothering with literature in the first place?

      Cheers, Himadri

      Reply

  10. Posted by Jason on March 16, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    The test of time seems like a good definition. It’s also one that usefully does away with genre barriers . My only thought would be that the passing down of titles by persons, adaptations or critics can be a lottery ………..but books such as Stoner have made returns from obscurity . I wonder though even if a book only lasts a generation , its importance in genre transcendence and social comment qualifies it?

    Reply

    • Hello Jason, good to see you here.
      There are many books that are important for a limited period only, and surely, that’s just fine. The question “But is it Art?” is irrelevant. Whether such books should be treated as “canonical literature” in the future is irrelevant, as they won’t survive into future generations anyway.

      There are also many books and writers who are unjustly forgotten, and are later valued. Stoner seems an example of that (although I haven’t read it yet). When Palgrave compiled his famous “Golden Treasury”, I don’t think he included anything by Donne, or by Gerard Manley Hopkins: it is unthinkable even to consider English poetry now without considering them. So yes, the Test of Time no doubt leaves behind much of value; but nonetheless, it is, perhaps, the only objective measure we have.

      My main point in writing this post is not so much, perhaps, to consider what does or does not make for literary quality: that is an impossible question to answer. Rather, it was to point out the idiocy of trying to discuss what makes literature without even considering the question of quality. As soon as literature is considered without reference to quality, we end up co-opting literature as an adjunct in identity politics, and people talk about literature being “oppressive” without so much as batting an eyelid.

      All the best, Himadri

      Reply

  11. I didn’t need much time to know that The Emigrants or The Savage Detectives or The Melancholy of Resistance were literature – were extraordinarily good. However long it took to read a page or two, that was the length of the test of time.

    Reply

  12. Hey Himadri! Sometimes I think that a novel I read was literature because I recognized myself at some points and its text was certain precaution for me. This would be fair to say about novels that are likely to scientific researches. Just want to remind you Madame Bovary by Flaubert in this respect. But sometimes I read ‘David Copperfield’ by Dickens and begin laughing from the very beginning. Nothing serious but again I understand that his novel displays our life as it is. It’s a mirror. Well-tailored novel may reflect our life in its pages and that is why we may consider it to be a good literature. Its reading reveals us something significant what we didn’t realize before. As Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’ makes for me know when I am reading.
    Thank you very much for posing this question. It is useless what I have said but I greatly appreciate an opportunity to take part in your discussion!

    Reply

    • Hello Oleg, and welcome.
      I think it was Hamlet who spoke of “holding a mirror up to nature”. But of course, there are all kinds of mirrors. There are some that are clear and with a sharp focus; others that are misty, and with a blurred focus; and others still that are distorting mirrors. And the wonderful thing is – there’s no rule to say which mirrors are the best! An author such as Tolstoy wanted to see life with as much clarity as possible; in Gogol or Dickens, the mirror is a distorting one. They are all wonderful for different reasons!

      But I think it is true that literature must reflect on life in some way. But then again, do the ALice novels by Lewis Carroll qualify in that respect? Some may say “yes”, in that it subjects the very concept of rationality to a critique. But then again, is that the reason why Alice in Wonderland is such a wonderful book? What about, say, the magical stories of A Thousand and One Nights? That’s the problem I have with this – as soon as I think of some rule that seems reasonable, I can immediately think of counter-examples! That’s why it seems to me best not to have rules up-front at all, but to judge each work on its own merits, and by its own rules. For great books make up their own rules: they are not written by formula, and neither, I think, should we judge them by any formula. !

      All the best, Himadri

      Reply

  13. #OutofTheMouthsofBabes The kids I used to teach defined literature as books you remember all your life. They loved all kinds of books, but they recognised that some had meaning that went beyond mere entertainment. So, for example, they thought that Michael Morpurgo’s version of the C14th century Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was literature because it made them think about loyalty and fidelity and trust. They thought that they would remember Gawain’s dilemma (being tempted by his best mate’s wife) for a long time…

    Reply

    • Never in the field of human blogging has so inconsequential a post elicited such excellence of response… 🙂

      I’m afraid, though, that there are some boks I have read that are reputed to be “great books” (and I have no doubt they are), which I have read, but which I cannot remember at all – Le Rouge et le Noir, for instance, or even some of Kafka’s short fiction (I know I have read “Investigations of a Dog”, for instance, but damned if I can remember any of it!)

      But yes, a good book goes “beyond entertainment”. That is not to say it can’t entertain: often, they entertain immensely. But they go beyond the pleasure of the moment. Of course, given our different personalities and receptivities, not everything will stay in the mind. And sometimes, works that are definitely not literature may stay in the mind: I am a fan, for instance, of the very scurrilous British comic Viz: I certainly won’t make any claims for its literary merit, but yes, it does make me laugh a lot, and a lot of it has stayed in the mind!

      But yes, good literature does offer more than pleasure for the moment. That’s possibly as good a definition as one is likely to come across!

      Reply

  14. […] wonderfully illuminating comment from a blogpost on what constitutes literature at  The Argumentative Old Git’s […]

    Reply

  15. Posted by John Henrick on March 17, 2016 at 5:33 am

    To quote Alexander Pope: “Tis with our Judgments as our Watches, none
    Go just alike, yet each believes his own.” IMO, James Joyce delivered the complete package, Ulysses [a day novel] and Finnegans Wake [a night novel]. OTOH, Max Beerbohm wrote Zuleika Dobson, by no means canon fodder. (NPI)

    Reply

    • Yes, as Pope says, no two judgements go alike; however, even given that, I find it remarkable how much of a consensus does emerge, despite all the differences in judgement.

      Ulysses, as you know, I love. And some time in the near future, I do need to make an effort on the Finnegans before they wake!

      Cheers, Himadri

      Reply

  16. Hello Himandri,

    I would like to point out to this post: http://mdparker46.com/2012/01/26/depth-complexity-quality/. It is in perfect accord with my opinion on this subject (only expressed better than I would be able to).
    I think you will agree on many points. Maybe you’ve read it before?

    Best,
    Anna

    Reply

    • Hello Anna, and thank you for the link. I do read and enjoy Michael’s blog, but I hadn’t seen this before.

      And yes, I think it’s a fair summary: most books that I think of as fine literature are works of depth, complexity, and quality. But once again, every time I come across a formulation such as this that seems to satisfy, I cannot but think of various exceptions. Does Bram Stoker’s Dracula have depth? What about, say, King Solomon’s Mines? I really don’t think so, but they have both passed the Test of Time. So have the magical stories of A Thousand and One Nights – and, once again, I see no depth there. As for the complexity, where is the complexity, say, in Aesop’s Fables?

      Then, of course, there are different perceptions. I think, for instance, that Bleak House has depth, but A Tale of Two Cities doesn’t; other Dickensians have different perceptions. We could, of course, debate the matter (and by “debate”, I don’t mean, of course, a mere exchange of unsupported opinion), but there are no objective standards against which we can measure such things. And neither does it seem to me a good idea to establish objective standards to measure such things: literary masterpieces are not written to formula, and should not be judged by such.

      But, troubling exceptions aside, depth, complexity, and quality – and Mike’s definitions of them – certainly seem excellent starting points for debate. And I am so glad Mike has mentioned “quality”: that’s what is vitally important. How we determine quality is, of course, a difficult matter, but if we are not even to acknowledge it (and the article I link to in my post doesn’t) there is no point even talking about literature. If we are not prepared to make value judgements, then the pursuit of literature becomes, I think, quite meaningless.

      All the best,
      Himadri

      Reply

      • Hello Himandri,

        I am sorry for this belated reply.

        Test of Time is pretty interesting. I think there are many reasons why some work or other passes it. It’s not the question of complexity/depth/quality only.

        (And, yes, quality is something that makes all the difference.)

        Also, it seems logical that not all of the works of literature have the same degree of complexity/depth/quality.
        And, I cannot really imagine an objective standard of what makes a text a work of art. It’s like deciding what is ”a lot”, don’t you think? Where is the line?
        Some works are (relatively) easy to recognize as literature, others not so. And, with this we are back to the Test of Time.. Many works of literature have not been recognized as such at some point of time, as you well know. This, of course, has something to do with what was considered literature throughout the history.

        Different theories and different opinions give us different perspectives and therefore better judgement. Or I should hope they do.
        Do you think that a piece of literature could pass unrecognized these days, with all the knowledge and understanding we have?
        I used to think not. Now, I am not so sure…

        The text on Mike’s blog is cited. It’s written by John Lye, a professor of English literature. Pardon me, I should’ve linked to the original source in the first place: https://www.brocku.ca/english/courses/1F95/depth-etc.php.

        All the best,
        Anna

      • Hello Anna,
        Don’t worry about the belated reply: it’s always good to hear from you – and I’m pretty lax myself in these matters.

        I must confess to a bad habit I have: whenever I hear of a general principle, I immediately try to think of all possible exceptions. It is a foolish thing to do: I doubt there’s any general principle anywhere that does not admit exceptions.

        Mike’s formulation of what makes literature pass the Test of Time is a good one, and the various counter-examples I can think of doesn’t really detract from that. But you’re right, of course: what makes for literary quality is so very intangible. And thank goodness for that, say I! If we could determine literary quality by simply subjecting them to a set of acknowledged measures, we would not need even to talk about literature … and what a boring world that would be!

        All the best, Himadri

  17. Do we really need to ask of a book ‘Is it literature?’ when we can simply ask ‘Is it good?’ Is there a problem with acknowledging both The Da Vinci Code and Anna Karenina as examples of literature when it is open for us to say that one is bad literature and the other is great literature?

    Reply

    • Agreed fully. The only distinction we need to make is that of “quality”: it’s in trying to define quality that we run into problems, because to define is to limit. Quality literature is not written to preconceived formula, and neither should it be judged by such.

      The reason for my somewhat casual post above was really to express my amusement that an article can be written on what does and doesn’t constitute literature, that doesn’t even touch upon the concept of “quality”: the only thing that really matters is treated as if it were something that doesn’t.

      As for what constitutes quality – well, that’s what book blogs are about! That’s what we spend so much time and effort discussing! But while it is not by any means clear-cut what “literary quality” may mean, not to acknowledge it is merely to use literature as a battleground for identity politics. Which, sadly, is what a great deal that I come across purportedly about literature ends up talking about.

      Reply

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