Friday, June 24, 2011

Literary Blog HopLiterary Blog Hop: June 22-25

Welcome to this week's Literary Blog Hop as usual  
hosted by the ladies from The Blue Bookcase!

Should literature have a social, political, or any other type of agenda? Does having a clear agenda enhance or detract from its literary value?

Once again the question is challenging and one that I find fascinating because, while I consider the aspects of a specific work of literature, I am not sure if I consider the existence of a "clear agenda" for a work of literature a quality that would necessarily affect its literary value.  I first ask myself if the work has the requisite characteristics to be considered literature.  One definition of literature that seems reasonable is that presented by Rene Wellek in his essay "What is Literature?":
"To speak sweepingly one can say, summarizing, that in antiquity and in the
Renaissance, literature or letters were understood to include all writing of quality
with any pretense to permanence."
The fundamental criteria  of permanence, or in the case of great literature transcendence, seems sufficient.  The presence of an agenda would not seem to be a determining factor in determining its literary value.
Another way to look at this question is to ask what work of literature does not have an "agenda" of one sort or the other.  The authorial point of view may be more (as in Tolstoy for example) or less (as in Proust) evident, but it is always there.  In fact I am not sure if I can think of a work of literature without an agenda.  Perhaps that is reason to suggest that having an agenda does not enhance a work of literature but may be an additional requirement for it to be literature or at least a necessary, if not sufficient, attribute.  The digressions in such novels as War and Peace, Les Miserables and Moby-Dick are just as necessary as the story lines which they seem to interrupt.  The overall character of the work must include these explicit representations of authorial agendas just as the characters and incidents of the story, which may indirectly demonstrate an agenda, are also necessary. This is a question worthy of further reflection and some works on the margin of literature may not be as clear examples as those I have used.  For me the continuing joy of reading literature includes consideration of issues just like this one.

Wellek, René. 1978. What Is literature? In Hernadi 1978, 16-23.

Hernadi, Paul, ed. 1978. What is literature? Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


Listener said...

Visiting via the Literary Blog Hop.

I agree that all literature has some agenda, but I think the question is looking at books with a "clear agenda", in other words books that set out to change peoples' thoughts about a topic, like Uncle Tom's Cabin or The Jungle. To use your definition of literature, I think the focus of these types of books on a specific goal makes the books less timeless, and thus less literary.

James said...

Thanks for your comment. You made a good point and to the extent that books are tracts rather than timeless works of art they may be less literary (perhaps not worthy of being considered literature at all).

LBC said...

Good response. I'm also not sure what literature would look like without an agenda. I think writers write to teach, about something, a time or place, even if it is imagined, and to teach us about ourselves.

Here is my post (and a literary giveaway!)

James said...

Thanks for your astute observation. The more I read the more I realize how true that is.

ConnieGirl said...

Interesting response, and doesn't it always seem to return to that ever elusive definition of literature? :)

I agree with Listener, I think the question is over secondary agendas, other than just to tell a story or present a character.

Although I'm not convinced that that alone makes them less timeless. Depending on the magnitude of the change they affect, it may cement them forever as a part of history (like Uncle Tom's Cabin).

Thanks for joining the hop!

James said...

Thanks for your comment. How true that there a those books that have changed history. Reminds me of Voltaire.

Saieef ahmdya said...

So good post
and I hope to visit my Blog Ancient Greece for Kids and see Map of Ancient Greece
thanks again Admin

James said...

Thanks for your comment. Your blog sounds wonderful.