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    Question:

    1. Readthe following essay
      • "What is Literature".
    2. Writea well-developed paragraph in which you
      • state your initial definition of "literature,"
      • give three specific examples of literary works and how they support your definition, and
      • state?how?the?essay?suggests?differing?opinions,?and?the?extent?to?which?you?could?see?the?validity?of?those?points.?



    r

     


     

    4

     


     

    CHAPTER 1

     


     

    What Is Literature? How and Why Does It Matter?

     


     

    Blaze up into golden stones.

     

    I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.

     

    A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.

     

    I have wasted my life.

     


     

    10

     


     

    [1963]

     


     

    Did the last line startle you? For many readers, Wright's poem is memorable

     

    because its conclusion is unexpected, even jarring. At first glance, nothing in

     

    the speaker's description of his surroundings justifies his blunt self-condemnation

     

    at the end. If anything, the previous lines evoke rural tranquility, so that a

     

    more predictable finish would be "I al).1 now at peace." Instead, the speaker suddenly criticizes himself. Intrigued by this mysterious move, readers usually look

     

    at the whole poem again, studying it for signs of growing despair. Often they

     

    debate with one another how the ending does relate to preceding lines. Thus,

     

    although the poem's speaker implies his life hasn't mattered, the poem itself has

     

    mattered to readers, plunging them into lively exchanges over how to interpret

     

    Wright's text.

     

    We present Wright's poem to begin pointing out how literature can matter

     

    to people. We will keep referring to the poem in this introduction. But now we

     

    turn to three big questions:

     

    ?

     

    ?

     

    ?

     


     

    How have people defined literature?

     

    Why study literature in a college writing course?

     

    What can you do to make literature matter to others?

     


     

    How Have People Defined Literature?

     

    Asked to define literature, most people would include Wright's text, along with

     

    other poems. In addition to poetry, they would say literature encompasses

     

    fiction (novels as well as short stories) and drama. But limiting the term's

     

    scope to these genres can be misleading, for they are rooted in everyday life.

     

    Often they employ ordinary forms of talk, although they may play with such

     

    expressions and blend them with less common ones. Someone lying in a

     

    hammock may, in fact, recite details of the landscape- especially if he or she

     

    is talking to someone else on a cell phone, as is common nowadays. And quite

     

    possibly you have heard someone proclaim "I have wasted my life" or make

     

    a similar declaration. In any case, surely much of Wright's language is familiar to you, even if you haven't seen it arranged into these particular phrases

     

    and lines.

     

    The genres regarded as literary are tied in other ways to everyday behavior.

     

    For instance, things function as symbols not only in poems but also in daily

     

    conversation. Even people who aren't poets have little trouble associating

     

    shadows, evening, darkness, and hawks with death. (In the case of Wright's

     

    poem, the issue then becomes whether the text supports or complicates this

     

    association.) Hammocks, too, are often treated as meaningful images. They are

     

    familiar symbols of "taking it easy." (With Wright's poem, the issue again becomes whether the speaker's hammock signifies more than just leisure.)

     


     

    Throughout the day, then

     

    into practice. Perhaps you hav(

     

    song lyric or citing words from

     

    the sense that you use metapj

     

    most of us are capable, as Wrig

     

    (even if we aren't apt to com pal

     

    you are often theatrical as well

     

    forming any number of roles. E

     

    telling no matter how little fil

     

    situation: you are late far a ~

     

    I

     

    traffic, and now you must ex]:1

     

    well become a tale of suspense;

     

    the bumper-to-bumper horde:

     

    ourselves stories in order to li~

     

    because doing so helps us m~

     

    story that Wright's speaker tel

     

    means for interpreting his exi

     

    on living.)

     

    I

     

    You may admit that liter~

     

    apply the term only to written!

     

    dency is distinctly modern, fo~

     

    so restrictively. Literature was '1

     

    emergence in the fourteenth cj

     

    was more or less a synonym fo!

     

    well read.

     

    I

     

    In the late eighteenth ceQ

     

    creasingly it referred to book/

     

    who read them. At the be ginn\

     

    encompassing nearly all pub]

     

    ceeded, the term's range shra:

     

    to be imaginative or creative i

     

    tion. This trend did take year~

     

    gies still featured essays as we

     

    the mid-l900s, though, the I1j

     

    This limited definition hJ

     

    a number of literature faculty I

     

    a National Endowment forth(

     

    stitute entitled "Women's Nob

     

    to genres that had not been t

     

    letters, diaries, autobiographi

     

    women have contributed mu~

     

    that a literature curriculum sl

     

    tion, poetry, and drama alonel

     

    Of course, even within th

     

    selectively applied. Take the ~

     

    King, whose books have sold f1

     


     

    I

     


     

    How Have Peo ple Defi ned Literature?

     


     

    10

     


     

    [1 963}

     


     

    oem is memorable

     

    ~lance, nothing in

     

    elf-condemnation

     

    1quility, so that a

     

    l, the speaker sudlders usually look

     

    espair. Often they

     

    ~ding lines. Thus,

     

    1e poem itself has

     

    ? how to interpret

     


     

    ?ature can matter

     

    tion. But n ow we

     


     

    text, along with

     

    re encompasses

     

    iting the term's

     

    in everyday life.

     

    'play with such

     

    ~ o ne lying in a

     

    lally if he or she

     

    days. And quite

     

    ty life" or make

     

    1guage is familt icular phrases

     


     

    ryday behavior.

     

    ut also in daily

     

    ble associating

     

    :tse of Wright 1s

     

    )mplicates this

     

    1ages. They are

     

    issue again beleisure.)

     


     

    5

     


     

    Throughout the day, then, it can be said that people put literary genres

     

    into practice. Perhaps you have commented on certain situations by quoting a

     

    song lyric or citing words from a poem, story, or play. Surely you are poetic in

     

    the sense that you use metaphors in your everyday conversations. After all.

     

    most of us are capable, as Wright's speaker is, of comparing a butterfly to a leaf

     

    (even if we aren't apt to compare horse droppings to "golden stones"). Probably

     

    you are often theatrical as well, carrying out various kinds of scripts and performing any number of roles. Furthermore. probably you are engaged in storytelling no matter how little fiction you actually write. Imagine this familiar

     

    situation: you are late for a meeting with friends because you got stuck in

     

    traffic, and now you must explain to them your delay. Your explanation may

     

    well become a tale of suspense, with you the hero racing against time to escap ~

     

    the bumper-to-bumper horde. As writer Joan Didion has observed. "We tell

     

    ourselves stories in order to live." Almost all of us spin narratives day after day

     

    because doing so helps us meaningfully frame our lives. (Unfortunately, the

     

    story that Wright's speaker tells is "I have wasted my life." Nevertheless, it's a

     

    means for interpreting his existence, and maybe somehow it helps him keep

     

    on living.)

     

    You may admit that literature is grounded in real life and yet still tend to

     

    apply the term only to written texts of fiction, poetry, and drama. But this tendency is distinctly modern, for the term literature has not always been applied

     

    so restrictively. Literature was at first a characteristic of readers. From the term's

     

    emergence in the fourteenth century to the middle of the eighteenth, literature

     

    was more or less a synonym for literacy. People of literature were assumed to be

     

    well read.

     

    In the late eighteenth century, however, the term's meaning changed. Increasingly it referred to books and other printed texts rather than to people

     

    who read them. At the beginning of this shift, the scope of literature was broad,

     

    encompassing nearly all public writing. But as the nineteenth century proceeded, the term's range shrank. More and more people considered literature

     

    to be imaginative or creative writing, which they distin guished from nonfiction. This trend did take years to build; in the early l900s,literature anthologies still featured essays as well as excerpts from h istories and biographies. By

     

    the mid-1 900s, though, the narrower definition of literature prevailed.

     

    This limited definition has become vulnerable. From the early 19 70s,

     

    a number of literature faculty have called for widening it.ln 19 79 , for instance,

     

    a National Endowment for the Humanities-Modern Language Association institute entitled "Women's Nontraditional Literature" applied the term literature

     

    to genres that had not been thought of as such. Participants studied essays,

     

    letters, diaries, autobiographies, and oral testimonies. To each of these genres,

     

    women have contributed much; in fact, the institute's participants concluded

     

    that a literature curriculum slights many works by women if it focuses on fiction, poetry, and drama alone.

     

    Of course, even within these three categories, the term literature h as been

     

    selectively applied. Take the case of novelist and short-story writer Stephen

     

    King, whose books have sold millions of copies . Despite his commercial success,

     


     

    6

     


     

    CHAPTER 1

     


     

    What Is Literature? How and Why Does It Matter?

     


     

    a lot of readers- including some of his fans- refuse to call King's writing literature. They assume that to? call something literature is to say that it has artistic merit, and for them King's tales of horror fall short.

     

    Yet people who use the term literature as a compliment may still disagree

     

    about whether a certain text deserves it. Plenty of readers do praise King's

     

    writing as literature, even as others deem it simply entertainment. In short,

     

    artistic standards differ. To be sure, some works have been constantly admired

     

    through the years; regarded as classics, they are frequently taught in literature

     

    classes. Hamlet and other plays by William Shakespeare are obvious examples.

     

    But in the last twenty years, much controversy has arisen over the literary

     

    canon, those works taught again and again. Are there good reasons why the

     

    canon has consisted mostly of works by white men? Or have the principles of

     

    selection been skewed by sexism and racism? Should the canon be changed to

     

    accommodate a greater range of authors? Or should literary studies resist

     

    having any canon at all? These questions have provoked various answers and

     

    continued debate.

     

    Also in question are attempts to separate literature from nonfiction. Much

     

    nonfiction shows imagination and relies on devices found in novels, short

     

    stories, poems, and plays. The last few years have seen the emergence of the

     

    term creative nonfiction as a synonym for essays, autobiographies, histories,

     

    and journalistic accounts that use evocative language and strong narratives.

     

    Conversely, works of fiction, poetry, and drama may center on real-life events.

     

    For example, beginning with James Wright's "Lying in a Hammock," several of

     

    the poems in our book can easily be seen as autobiographical. Perhaps you

     

    have suspected already that the speaker in Wright's poem is Wright himself. In

     

    numerous interviews. Wright admitted as much. He acknowledged that he

     

    based the poem on his own experience of lying in a hammock, which really did

     

    lead him to think "I have wasted my life."

     

    A note of caution is in order. While testimony such as Wright's can be illuminating, it should be used prudently. In crucial respects, Wright's poem still

     

    differs from Wright's life. The text is a representation of his experience, not the

     

    experience itself. His particular choice and arrangement of words continue to

     

    merit study, especially because he could have depicted his experience in plenty

     

    of other ways. As critic Charles Altieri notes, important to specify are the ways

     

    in which a poem is "binding the forms of syntax to the possibilities of feeling."

     

    Keep in mind, too, that the author of a work is not always the ideal guide to it.

     

    After all, the work may matter to its readers by raising for them issues and

     

    ideas that the author did not foresee. Besides, often the author's comments

     

    about the text leave certain aspects of it unexplained. Though Wright disclosed

     

    his poem's origins, readers must still decide how to connect its various images

     

    to its final line. Even so, "Lying in a Hammock" confirms that a literary work

     

    can stem from actual circumstances, whatever use the reader makes of facts

     

    about them.

     

    Some people argue, however, that literature about real events is still "literary"

     

    because it inspires contemplation rather than action. This view of literatme has

     


     

    I

     


     

    ~

     


     

    traditionally been summed ~

     

    however, all the poems, _nov1

     

    to undertake certain acts. I~

     

    "Capital Punishment, ". a po1

     

    True, not every poem ts so 1

     

    Hammock" seems more g_ea:

     

    is physically reclining while/

     

    may take even this poem as!

     

    can feel they have not wastJ

     

    In our book, we restst I

     

    encourage you to review al

     

    the same time, to expand ~

     

    addition to short stories, PI

     

    commentaries as well as vi

     

    we invite you to make co9

     

    need not treat them as alt~

     

    I

     

    I

     


     

    What Makes Literatur\

     

    Comparing a News StJ

     

    .I

     


     

    We have suggested that, II

     

    . g So ? too ? can it resembl

     

    111 ?

     

    .

     

    I

     

    distinct category, even tf c\

     

    Usually; works classified a\

     

    as imaginary. Just as oftel

     

    and challenging. Throug]

     

    tions, and settings, emot!

     

    any of the words in sue!

     

    m

     

    be ambiguous, symbl"

     

    o IC,

     

    are often complicated, ev

     

    defy simple diagnosis. T_}j

     

    teach. They illuminate h~

     

    to cliches or other slogi

     

    not be immediately clear.[

     

    reading. Overall, a literar

     

    They may then disagree ~

     

    our own literary selectior

     

    A literary work's spe

     

    with another kind of texj

     

    arriples. Each of these ~

     

    when wildlife invades th1

     

    peration that many peol

     

    dens. But while one tex1

     

    differences are striking.

     


     

    I

     


     

    What Makes Literature "Literature"?

     


     

    {use to call Kin , . . .

     

    ture is t

     

    g s wntmg lito say that 1.t 1

     

    lOrt.

     

    las artis-

     


     

    mpliment may still disa

     

    'Jf readers d

     

    .

     

    . gree

     

    ly entertain~e~;IIse King 's

     

    reb

     

    ? n short

     

    een constant]

     

    . ,

     

    lUently tau h . Y admired

     

    g t mllterat ?

     

    !are are ob .

     

    ure

     

    vwus exam 1

     

    ls arisen o

     

    P es.

     

    ~re good ver the literary

     

    reasons why tl

     

    Or have th

     

    .

     

    1e

     

    th

     

    e Pnnciples of

     

    e canon be h

     

    Id )"

     

    c anged to

     

    , d lterary studies resist

     

    ,e vanous

     

    answers and

     


     

    I

     

    I

     


     

    e from nonfict.

     

    ~

     

    Ion.A1uch

     

    l ~~nd in novels, short

     

    . e emergence of tb

     

    'bwgraphies, histo -? .e

     

    :tnd st

     

    rws,

     

    rong narratives

     

    ter on real-1'1'

     

    .

     

    .

     

    l e events

     

    iammock"

     

    , several of?

     

    a?hicai. Perhaps

     

    ls W. h

     

    YOU

     

    :

     

    ng t himselt: In

     

    knowledged that 1

     

    oclc h'

     

    le

     

    , w Jch really did

     

    :; Wright's can b '1

     

    W.

     

    eJnght's poem still

     

    exp enence,

     

    ?

     

    not the

     

    . wo~ds continue to

     

    .pe~ence in plenty

     

    :~f.1 Y are the ways

     

    ~I . Jties of feeling."

     

    ~ Ideal guide to 't

     

    them issues a~d

     

    :ho~'s comments

     

    Wnght disclosed

     

    ; various images

     

    a literary work

     

    . makes of facts

     

    ;s still "literary"

     

    f. 1Iterature

     

    ?

     

    has

     


     

    7

     


     

    traditionally been summed up as "art for art's sake." This notion brushes aside,

     

    however, all the poems, novels, short stories, and plays that encourage audiences

     

    to undertake certain acts. Included in our book, for example, is Sherman Alex:ie's

     

    "Capital Punishment," a poem designed to spark resistance to the death penalty.

     

    True, not every poem is so conspicuously action-oriented. Wright's "Lying in a

     

    Hammock" seems more geared toward reflection, especially because the spealcer

     

    is physically reclining while he observes nature and ponders his life. But readers

     

    may talw even this poem as an incitement to change their behavior, so that they

     

    can feel they have not wasted their own lives.

     

    In our book, we resist endorsing a single definition of literature. Rather, we

     

    encourage you to review and perhaps rethink what the term means to you. At

     

    the same time, to expand the realm of literature, we include several essays in

     

    addition to short stories, poems, and plays. We also present numerous critical

     

    commentaries as well as various historical documents. Throughout the book,

     

    we invite you to make connections among these different kinds of texts. You

     

    need not treat them as altogether separate species.

     


     

    I

     


     

    I

     


     

    I

     


     

    I

     

    I

     


     

    I

     

    I

     


     

    What Makes Literature "Literature"?

     

    Comparing a News Story and a Poem

     

    We have suggested that, in some respects, literature can resemble other writing. So, too, can it resemble ordinary speech. Still, literature can be viewed as a

     

    distinct category, even if controversies arise over what specific texts belong to it.

     

    Usually, works classified as literature permit the reader to treat their characters

     

    as imaginary. Just as often, these works' use of language is especially skillful

     

    and challenging. Through their style, they dramatically depict people, situations, and settings, emotionally drawing their readers in. At the same time,

     

    many of the words in such texts can have more than one meaning. They might

     

    be ambiguous, symbolic, or metaphorical. Furthermore, the main characters

     

    are often complicated, even mysterious. Their acts, relationships, and motives

     

    defy simple diagnosis. Typically, just as complex is any "lesson" these works

     

    teach. They illuminate life, but they do so by showing how it resists reduction

     

    to cliches or other slogans. Furthermore, the basic design of these works may

     

    not be immediately clear. Their patterns may be detectable only after repeated

     

    reading. Overall, a literary work tends to make its i:'eaders analyze it, interpret it.

     

    They may then disagree about its meaning and impact. Indeed, we hope that

     

    our own literary selections will spark debates in your class.

     

    A literary work's special features can be more apparent if you compare it

     

    with a:.wther kind of text on the same topic. Consider the following pair of examples. Each of these pieces of writing deals with the ways humans react

     

    when wildlife invades their home turf. In particular, each dramatizes the exasperation that many people feel when woodchucks destroy their farms or gardens. But while one text is a newspaper article, the other is a poem, and the

     

    differences are striking.

     


     

     

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