As someone who has written on thousands of subjects in many different niches over the years, I’ve amassed quite a writing archive. It occurred to me recently that I wasn’t sure what was worthy of carrying forward into my present. Tending to be one to go down rabbit holes on a whim, I started digging around about what constitutes literature. That’s because I have tried to evolve into more of a literary essayist and not purely an article writer or someone who just “blogs” about whatever crosses their mind.
At first, I considered writing an essay about written pieces being artifacts of their time, and I can say that’s true. But, that topic seems to necessitate more broad topics, such as racism and sexism and how they’ve been handled over time in literature. I wasn’t looking to write a dissertation explaining my various thoughts to that end. Instead, I decided to focus on the related, but much less controversial and touchy topic, of what constitutes literature. Then again, if you’re a literary type or prolific writer like me, it probably is equally controversial and touchy as a subject.
So, is everything that is written literature? Most literary critics would seem to agree that literature is something that is widely considered to be artistic, such as novels, short stories, poetry, and the like. Most writing that’s considered to be significantly technical or informative, as are many articles that I’ve written, isn’t considered to be literature to most people.
Because of the whole idea of what most people consider to be literature, I was holding back a great deal of my writing archive. I’ve tried to make The Phoenix Desertsong, which is now my only website and I plan to keep it that way, a safe haven for my literary works. But, since I’m no good at writing short stories, and I’ve found that poetry-centric websites have serious limitations for long-term growth, what am I to post rather than my top ten percent or so of my journal entries and musings over the years?
I came to the decision that my articles, if they are revised to be written up to the higher standards I’ve placed on myself over the years, should be equally welcome in the annals of The Phoenix Desertsong website. As I don’t plan on ever posting my long-form stories as posts on the website, and I’ve slowed to a crawl as far as writing poetry, I needed a consistent source of content to keep up my daily pace.
Also, going back and reading my old articles has given me a chance to revisit not only my own way of thinking about things, but peering into these articles as artifacts of their time. As a result, I’ve backdated many of my old articles as I post them on the Phoenix Desertsong to reflect the time from which they came. Those that required significant updating will be treated as new pieces, although even then, I’ve tried to make clear that the original piece was begun at a different time. As someone who at one time studied to be a historian, understanding the time and place a work was first born into is actually just as important to me as the actual content.
As far as a piece of literature being a work of its time, yes, I agree that use of language, literary devices, constructs, or concepts that demonstrate some sort of ignorance or apathy towards some combination of age, creed, gender, race, sexuality, et cetera does not make it a “product of its time,” it’s just bad literature. That’s not to say we’re all suddenly living in an enlightened age. It’s just to say that a lot of literature out there – including written works that may not be considered by the general academic community or the world at large to be literary – is not aging well or is just plain bad to begin with. Of course, unless the work is being purposely ironic or mocking for the purpose of proving a point – that’s just sheer genius in some cases.
I’ve come to the decision that anything that is written that shows some sort of consciousness about being from a particular time and place, which is most non-technical things that are written in fact, should be considered literature. I’ve read enough newspaper clippings and informative articles over the years that read more as literary essays to me now than some literature being printed today. Technical manuals probably couldn’t be considered literature as such, but I’m definitely pushing the often self-imposed limits of what I’ve long considered to be “true literature” more and more each day.
What do you define as literature?