What would be a thesis statement that encompasses an interpretation of the function and value of literature as an art, along with the following: How does literature function as something that both arises from or contributes to culture? How does literature allow people to have shared experiences across time periods and cultures? What is the effect of this? What is the value of literature? How is it useful or relevant to other areas of study?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Perhaps a good starting point for thinking about this is to understand that the category of "literature" is historically constructed. Even the notion of "an art" has not been one that is consistent across all periods and places. Thus a good thesis might be that to understand the nature of literature and what is considered literary, it is imperative to reflect on its history.

In response to Sartre's question "What is literature?" Roland Barthes in 1969 famously replied: "Literature is what gets taught." This reflects the evolution of the category of "literature" in Western culture. Neither Greek nor Latin have categories or words corresponding to what we would consider "literature," referring to a subset of imaginative works of prose or poetry. Both languages will refer to "the poets," meaning writers of epic, dramatic, and lyric poetry, but those terms correspond to our notion of verse form as a genre.

The Greek term "grammata" and Latin "litera" refer to written works taught in secondary schools. These would include drama, epic, oratory, history, and philosophy. These works formed a "canon" of what cultured people were expected to know and were part of the seven "liberal arts" essential to the education of free ("liber") people as opposed to slaves. Thus these precursors of our sense of "literature" suggest that literature comprises written works that are part of an educational tradition. The restriction of the term "literature" to works of imaginative fiction and poetry stems form the Romantic movement, which placed a special value on this type of writing.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team