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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the fine arts, literature has been defined and redefined by many. But one thing is certain: the term literature applies to written works of drama, poetry, and novel/fiction. In contemporary times, letters, diaries, reports, petitions, journals and essays that meet certain standards have also been included under the term of literature. But, these works of literature must exhibit the following qualities: 

  • the use of language in artistic ways
  • literary quality and distinctionT

There is also nowadays the inclusion of some autobiography and philosophy--even oral narratives have been termed "literature." Perhaps, then, literature can be better designated as the recordings of the human spirit, and, as Albert Camus expressed it, "[Fiction is] the lie through which we tell the truth." Above all, then, literature is the real history of man, for it reveals the workings of heart and mind that have reflected and changed cultures. For, as the French philsopher, art critic, and writer, Denis Diderot (1713-1784), defines history and fiction, it is literature that is of the higher value:

The truest history is full of falsehoods, and your romance if full of truths.

Underscoring this statement of Diderot, is D. H. Lawrence's dictum, "Trust the tale, not the teller of the tale." What, then, is literature?  It is an everlasting truth, a human truth in written and artistic form.



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