WHAT IS LITERATURE?
Defining and Determining Literature and Non-Literature
Literature, unlike Mathematics and Physics, is not an exact branch of knowledge. While inMathematics 2 multiplied by 2 equals 4, it doesn't have to be that way in literature. This is the mainreason why when it comes to the question of what literature is there is no exact definition.Muslim scholar and philosopher Imam Ja'far Al-Sadiq defined literature as 'the garment which one putson what they say or write so that it may appear more attractive. While Russian Formalist RomanJakobson states that literature is an 'organized violence committed on ordinary speech, Hornby definedliterature as '(the writing of the study of) books, etc valued as works of art (drama, fiction, essays, poetry, biography) contrasted with technical books and journalism.The definitions mentioned above are just three of many others definitions that are recognizedworldwide. However, each person might have their own definitions of literature. When asked about thedefinition of literature, Valentino Basswara, an English Literature senior student, states that literature is'something made from deepest thought and it could be defined as a respond to the society happenings'.A different answer to the same question is offered by Junaedi Ghazali, an English Literature junior student. According to Ghazali, literature is 'humans work in the form of written words that reflects beauty'.Considering the numerous definitions of literature existed, many people might be wondering of whatliterature actually is. There might be some tricky questions, too, such as : Can a definition be judgedright or wrong? Are ordinary people are allowed to make their own definitions of literature? What kindof work can be considered literature or non-literature?The world's theories on literature is constantly evolving alongside the changes and advances of societyand technology. This happens because it is the audience that is in charge of distinguishing literature.Authors may use literature to represent their people, culture, and tradition. However, since literature iscompletely open to interpretation, it is the reader's imagination of the readers that brings a story to life.Literature affects its readers by triggering their imaginations through language, and it is theinterpretation of that language that truly makes literature. Without readers to read and interpret their books, the authors and their books are nothing.Readers are so important for authors and their works that it is unfair if critics are the only ones allowedto determine what literature is and what non-literature is on the grounds of a standard of grammar andsyntax, of an unbelievable and unconnected story-line, or of inconsistent or unconvincing characters.Lorraine Hansberry's
A Raisin in the Sun
, for instance, is a play with many grammatical mistakes. Evenso, the response of the audience was so great that the play was stamped literature straight away. On theother hand, an older literary work, Thomas Hardy's
Jude the Obscure
was not considered literaturewhen it first published. It was badly criticized. The copies were even burned. Yet as time changed, theresponse of the audience changed, and Jude the Obscure is now listed as a prominent literary work.However different the cases are, however different the times are, those examples show us that theresponse of the audience is the one to determine what literature is. Readers' responses are variedaccording to the readers' culture, tradition, point of views, education background, ideologies, thoughts, beliefs, etc. The strongest factor in determining readers response is the effect they get from the work.