Comment on the topic..Literature as a commodity..Comment on the topic..Literature as a commodity..

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

True literature is not merely a commodity when expression and form are individualistic and personal.  Even when there is a universal appeal as there is to worthy literature, it is not written first with sales in mind. 

Stephen King is an example of an author who does write with the intention of selling his books, for he is capable of great literature if he would not make selling his first motive.  Often in his novels, there are isolated passages of value and beauty that hint at his real talent.  

It is a shame that everything in America is evaluated on its economic service.  Are the outpourings of the soul, the emotions of the heart to now have a price tag?

mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Commodity has two denotations: (1) something of value; (2) a product (rather than a service) that can be traded

I think we can all agree that literature has value: artistic, historical, moral, philosophical, and commercial.  I suppose "commercial value" raises the most eyebrows. 

There are several ways to approach this:

Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu says that literature is (wrongly) used as "cultural capital," a measure of a person's worth (education level or socio-economic status).

Critic Roland Barthes says, tongue-in-cheek, that literature is "what gets taught in schools."  So, does education drive the canon, or does the canon drive education?  Are schools and book clubs (hey Oprah!) and Amazon.com defining literature based on sales, interests, politics?

Finally, critic Kenneth Burke calls literature "equipment for living."  I like this analogy because it makes literature part of our daily lives (you can take it with you) and strips the term  of its emotional and elitist baggage. 

Anyway, those are ways into your discussion.  Hope it helps!

krishna-agrawala's profile pic

krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

Before we get down to discuss the main topic raised, it is necessary to have a clarity on what we mean by commodity.

Adjective commodity is used in business and management to refer to to products that can be either physical goods or services that are of generic nature. For example, the sugar and salt are generic products because difference between salt or sugar manufactured by one company is not significantly differently from that manufactured by its competitors. However some other goods like soft drinks or cars are highly differentiated. Each manufacturer of differentiated goods offers a product can be said to be unique. Like goods, services can also be classified as commodities or differentiated products. for example, there is not much of difference between plumbing or janitorial services of different service providers. In comparison, services provided by different airlines are highly differentiated. Thus in short we can define commodity as a product that has low degree of differentiation.

Now coming down to the question of literature being commodity, it is obvious that in literal sense, literature is not a commodity. Every piece of new literature that is written or published is unique. But speaking figuratively, a lot of what is published and sold today can be described as commodity as there is hardly any thing that is new or fresh in it. Frequently we use adjectives like "pulp romance" do describe the to particular categories of such literature conforming to some set patterns. Thus literature becomes just a means of "time pass", enjoyed to some extent while being read, but totally forgotten after some time.

But because some, or even most, of the literature is nothing of value that differentiate one piece of literature from other, does not mean that all literature is like that. We must remember that literature is a product conceived an produced by hundreds of thousands of individuals all over the world. It is quite unreasonable to expect that the literature produced by all of them should be of good quality, just as it might be unreasonable to expect that food cooked by all housewives in their homes will be of top quality. I personally believe that even one percent of the total literature published and sold across the world is of good quality will be a very good performance.

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