Original article posted by ravenpaine:

I would like to take a moment to say that I blame Rowsdower. Of all the terrible things that are currently happening he is the father of most of them. Now, it is true that the message was delivered to him by a prophet, one Professor Jill Talbot, who asked a rather innocent question about a group of slave narratives. She asked if they were literature.

I said no.

Rowsdower said no.

The rest of the class said yes.

This caused Rowsdowr to go home and put together a little blurb on the class discussion group about what literature is.

This made the gods angry.

And they did strike at us with statements such as this…

(Removed by request)

I’ll start with what is wrong with this passage. Outside of my usual rage at anyone quoting a dictionary as a way of proving their point, which is unnecessary not only because it is cheap but also because it assumes that everyone agrees to use the exact defintion applied to a word that is defined in its broadest sense by people who work for dictionary companies. The use of a dictionary is not intended to tell you the sacred, undeniable meaning of a word, that is normally why they give you more than one definition per word. Literature, for example has six seperate definitions. (removed by request)

This leads me to believe that the only reason she used “the dictionary” for her definition is so that she could put her words into the mouth of an entity that has credibility as a cheap way of gaining credibility herself.

The thing that angers me next is her statement that anything that is written is literature including things that end with the word “literature.” Which I suppose she must be referring to all things that are written down and then have the word “literature” attached to them. I could for example talk about VCR Programming “literature” and I would be accurate, not because VCR Programming manuals are literature, but because I have specifically alluded to only the section of VCR Programming that is referred to as “literature.”

A handy trick, but all to transparent.

(removed by request)

Which tells us everything we need to know about this person to completely invalidate her opinion. I may be known for a certain amount of snap judgement and brutal hatred towards the worm that dare be called by peers but even if this statement was made as a joke it is the sholarly equivalent of a dick joke and thereby invalidates whatever thought and synthesis that may have been in this statement.

Bottom line? If you are going to get involved in a serious academic debate about a topic you should a) Know how to deliver a proper thought, b) leave out the potty humour – it only makes you look stupid, and c) for God’s sake if you are going to quote the dictionary at least quote it in context – don’t just make up shit that proves your point.

All of the above invoked a reply from me. Listed here in its entirety because it is mine and I can stand by it.

The question here is not specifically, “What is
literature, as a definition,” but in some ways the
question is “What should literature be?”

What Rowsdower is trying to get across is that not
everything can be considered literature by us, as
literature students. If we do go off that tragic limb
we are succumbing to the same horrors that
Communications majors do when they realize that they
spent years studying how people communicate.

If everything is literature then literature loses all
of its value. The debate about what is ‘good’
literature versus that which is ‘bad’ literature
becomes an arbitrarty tirade. Camps of people who
cannot seperate quality from like-ability will be all
over the place.

If you are serious about studying Literature then you
should be willing to take a moment and set limits to
your definitions of it.

As much as anything that is written down can be
studied, which is something you do with literature,
literature itself is somewhat different from a TEXT. I
don’t go in for dictionary definitions when making
argument because they are both limiting and, more
importantly, they show that someone has already done
your argument for you. However, I will take a moment
to list the definition of a text to see if that will
assist us in set literature apart to some degree.

And what a large definition it is, I’ll just list the
important bits.

Text:
1a. The original words of something written or
printed, as opposed to a paraphrase, translation,
revision, or condensation.
2. The body of a printed work as distinct from
headings, illustrative matter, or front and back
matter in a book.
4. Something, such as a literary work, regarded as an
object of critical analysis.
6. A passage from a writtern work used as the starting
point of a discussion.

That is roughly half of the definition of text
according to the American Heritage dictionary, chosen
for its symoblic American quality.

Anyway, using this definition of text we can see why
many things can be defined as a text, many fewer can
be literature. For example, a Math text book is not a
work of literature, despite the fact that it is
creative (you try coming up with all those example
problems), it is a writtern work that comprises a body
(such as medical literature – which is miss defined
anyway), and it printed material of any kind (which is
so sad as to be barely worthy of being a portion of a
definition).

While I am still opposed to allowing slave narratives
to be literature I certainly think that my point
should be heeded. You have to set limitations of
things to give them meaning. Certain definitions are
so broad as to make everything completely arbitrary.

And one last note on why slave narratives should not
be literature is that if we are to take these
narratives as truth, as statements of fact, then we
cannot have them as literature, literature is studied
and criticized and interpreted. Statements of fact
become invalid when this process is applied to them.
So we can have it only one of two ways, either these
narratives are factual or they are stories.

And I believe in Neil Gaiman’s statement in regards to
the play “A Midsummer Nights Dream”, “This is
magnificent — and true! It never happened; yet is
still true.”

To which I recieved, as I often recieve, a reply that missed several of my key points, put words in my mouth and then took an extra special moment to simply make shit up and put it down in writing. Ya know, that way it would become literature like everything else that has ever been written.

(removed by request)

I’ll section this out for convienence and leave the non-fiction commentary for part two of this three part Ruthless Banter. So, that leaves me beginning with the most confusing portion, the portion where I make a claim that slave narratives are statements of fact. I do not say that they are, I say that “if we are to take these narratives as truth, as statements of fact, then we cannot have them as literature.” Which I stand by, IF we take them as statements of fact then they cannot be literature. Obviously no one wants to take them as statements of fact, which is fine, this does not invalidate the truth that may be gained from them, but it does prevent them from being taken at face value as actual, factual events that occured and can say be presented as condemning evidence in court.

But it is the second thing that confuses me the most, and perhaps is what will allow the first statement to exist. At what point in the American Literature class did we utilize academics to analyze or synthesise information about these texts? I seem to recall that we spent a while listing what they said and how much we all loved them (I exlude myself from both of these statements, mind you). However, at no point did we actually intepret them as literature. So I suppose if you define “interpreting” a text as telling someone who also read it what it said, then sure everything can be literature really fast.

If you didn’t detect the hidden, fuck you in that statement then I’m sorry. Next time I’ll make it more clear and less confusing by simply saying the things that I mean rather than hiding them carefully in a way that only a learned reader can detect.

‘Cause I’m a real nice guy like that.

Rodney TGAP
the Bastard

Tune in for part two of this saga.

Orginal comments:


Nickname: -soma-
Re: Times Like These…
As literature majors, we are dealing with a certain definition of literature. To argue that “all writing is literature” is an argument with absolutely no value that doesn’t belong in a literature class. What are we majoring in then? In everything that was ever written down? What’s the point? As an English major I take my profession seriously; I feel that it is valuable and when people want to argue that “well, we all define what literature is to us…any definition is correct.. there are no standards…everything goes” well, that makes my major look like a big joke. Like all we English majors do is read stuff and then talk about it. Whoo hoo… now there’s a challenging major. In literature courses, we should be dealing with academic literature. And there should be standards. That doesn’t mean that those standards don’t change, but they don’t change just because you say they should- just because everyone needs to define what literature is to him/her. As English majors, we persuade people to agree with our opinions, we don’t just say “well, literature is subjective, therefore whatever I say is right”. And if you are resorting to that answer, than you obviously have no evidence to support your opinion that such and such is literature. Try doing that in an achedemic paper. Anyway, everyone needs to quite belittling my major. It’s pissing me off.
And we should be asking Why is this literature? rather than Why isn’t this literature?

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