The Fluid Nature of Literature

Friday, March 01, 2024

Before the course began, I thought of literature as something concrete. Literature is stuff everyone can agree on; Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Golding, Tolkien. They are incredible and fantastic stories of characters with lives far removed for the ordinary person’s. I also thought that literature was completely separate from modernity. You can analyze and interpret a novel without a laptop or phone. These things were written without such things, so why would those things add to the experience? To me, the only use would be easy access to Google so you can understand the allusion the author made.

I was wrong about these two thoughts, of course. My first introduction to literature as something not as solid of an answer actually came last semester, in a class where I learned about African Literature. In that class, I learned that literature, itself, isn’t as clear cut. A lot of different things can be literature, but the type of things we often learn of are classic lit and are, more often than not, stories by white men. Of course, they are classics for a reason; they are incredibly well written stories that can have huge influence on media and society. However, it is only one perspective. Learning about literature is understanding that there are many different kinds of people who deserve to have their stories told, and more often than not, those stories are overshadowed. The class broadened my horizons, and helped me better in both this class as well as my second major in Political Science.

When it came to literature and modernity, I still beieved they couldn’t be connected. This was until we learned about the manuscripts of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Something written decades ago and something probably very overlooked was now at my disposal because of the internet. Without the internet, a lot of people wouldn’t know about or care about the manuscripts. This makes sense because literature isn’t often about how it was written but more the final product. But this manuscript opened my eyes to see that it can be just as fascinating as the finished product. reading manuscripts gives you a better understanding of the author than the work itself ever could. You see where they messed up, erased, crossed out, and rearranged.

Literature is not simple. There is a reason we study it. I now see where I was limited in my thinking. There is much fluidity in the definition of literature. There is so much that can be learned from it, it’s creation and manuscripts, it’s authors, and how it came to reach the readers to today. There is more than just the one persective we as students see and read in schools, and there is much more to it than just the novel itself. I now understand where I was incorrect.