Letters, Novels, or Blogs-What Really Is Literature?
"With the need to incorporate the increasingly powerful but spiritually rather raw middle classes into unity with the ruling aristocracy, to diffuse polite social manners, habit of 'correct' taste and common cultural standards, literature gained a new importance. It included a whole set of ideological institutions: periodicals, coffee houses, social and aesthetic treatises, sermons, classical translations, guide books to manners and morals. Literature was not a matter of ‘felt experience’, ‘personal response’ or ‘imaginative uniqueness’: such terms, indissociable for us today from the whole idea of the ‘literary’, would not have counted for much with Henry Fielding.”
-From Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An Introduction, Chapter 1 “The Rise of English,” page 15-16
I have always been fascinated by the way that literature over the centuries has changed. Could you ever imagine a world without female novelists such as J.K Rowling or Stephanie Meyers? However, less than two hundred years ago, women were frowned upon for writing novels for payment. Could you even imagine a world where fantasy, mystery, horror, or science fiction novels either did not exist or were seen as frivolous and second-rate? Now, the most successful writers seem to produce works within these genres.
But literature has not changed only within the area of novels. Eagleton mentions that letters, newspapers, sermons, and books on manners were considered “literature” in the late 1700s to the 1800s. Today, people rarely write letters or even thank-you notes (something that personally irritates me); email and apparent lack of gratitude have taken over this lost art. Now, people can find all the news they are looking for online and, though more accessible, has created, in some cases, an increase in human interest pieces rather than information people should know and care about. Also very few people now study sermons-a fact that many, including myself, are thankful for. However, in English and Theology classes, sermons are still part of the curriculum, just as they are still read in religious circles, but rarely are sermons important in public circles. Finally, books on manners have been virtually extinct since the 1950s, but often I think that a revival is necessary for most people.
Although I think that some of the outdated literature needs to be revived today, I do still appreciate literature of the 1900s and 2000s. I also often wonder what literature will be made into in the future. Will people be reading blogs as the primary form of literature instead of novels? Will text-speech be used in published papers instead of the formal academic English we now use? Will we return to a more functional literature than the "aesthetic" literature that is popular now?
I think that answers can be guessed at by using the Reception Theory that Eagleton talks about. In the future, will writers hope to appeal to persons who have used text-speech all their lives? I have already seen teen novels that use emails or IMs (of course with incorrect spelling and grammar) as modes for their stories. If this is so, then we can expect to possibly see only this type of language used in the future-a very interesting thought for those of us who pride ourselves in our writing abilities now and who look forward towards careers in writing.