What Is Literature?


What is literature?

Dictionary.com defines literature as "writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays." If we use this definition as the standard for what literature is, the possibilities expand drastically.

Twitter poetry by @TylerPedersen83.

Traditionally, literature has been limited to writings in paper form, such as poems, novels, plays, essays, etc. What if we were to expand the category  to include films, video games, and experimental digital works? Are Twitter posts literature? What if we included YouTube videos? Definitions evolve as technology progresses, but not everyone is open to change. We're held back by lingering expectations of the past. The defining features of literature are "expression and form." These features can be manifested in endless ways.

Not the only place you can find literature.

The definition of literature doesn't have to be monopolized by the academic community either. Literature, as is the case with many things in life, is subjective. Anyone with any level of expertise (including none at all) can decide what literature means to them. Everyone has a standard of quality, an opinion of what they consider to be "good." A high level of education doesn't make your opinion on literature any more valid than the opinion of one who is less educated.

We each get to decide on an individual basis what literature means to us. In a way, art and literature are closely related. The difference is that literature is guided by a written component, by language. Just as there is bad art, there can be bad literature; there can be flawed literature. Someone's idea of what a masterpiece is can fall under another person's definition of mental sewage.

Ellie from The Last of Us.

One of my favorite pieces of literature is a video game. The Last of Us pushes the boundaries of storytelling in video games. It has one of the most powerful, well written scripts of any game out there; possibly of any medium, depending on who you speak with. The player becomes part of the narrative as they take control of Joel, a man with seemingly nothing to lose. The apocalypse took place 20 years ago; Joel has lost everything. He then meets a girl named Ellie, and his life explodes with meaning. It's all about the characters and their interactions with one another. The gameplay in The Last of Us doesn't negate the literary merit of the game, but enhances it. What other literature puts the reader into the medium and allows them to be part of the story? The player lives the story through the characters, through the controller. Even though the game is heavily scripted, the player becomes immersed in the game's world in a way no other medium can emulate.

Literature can be found almost anywhere.

Literature is ultimately about the reader, not the author. The reader's response to language is at the heart of literature. Without the reader, what would language amount to but scribbles on a stone wall; audio played unendingly over a speaker? It is everyday people that keep literature going.

What is your favorite piece of literature? Do you disagree with my interpretation of what literature is? If so, sound off in the comments below!

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What Is Literature?
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