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 Definition The profession of “letters” (from Latin litteras), and written texts considered as aesthetic and expressive objects. [d] [e]
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Article version for Approval?

I see that the link in the approval box above to this version points to an older version than the current one. How is this taken care of at approval - what we really want to approve is not this older version, but the most updated one! I'm in the dark as to how this works .... Russell Potter 08:49, 5 May 2007 (CDT)

The Future of literature

In an effort to wrap up the essay, as Russell suggested, I've added a paragraph on the future of literature. Since it is essentially speculative, it may not be appropriate for the entry. Feel free to take it out if you think it strikes the wrong note.

--Robert Rubin 21:05, 3 May 2007 (CDT)

Looks great! Russell Potter 22:44, 3 May 2007 (CDT)

New intro?

Greetings, all. I'd like to propose a new intro to the section. As I'm a newbie to wikis, and wiketiqutte, I'm not sure how to do it. So, rather than pasting it in over the current intro, I'm just going to plunk it in here. It's still pretty choppy. I've incorporated some of the current entry into it. There are no links or footnotes at present, but I would add those later. So, let me know what you think. This would replace the present intro and the final section of the present entry. --Robert Rubin 09:02, 30 April 2007 (CDT)


Unlike scholars in certain fields of learning, such as biology, where the boundaries are fairly well defined, those in the field of literature still debate exactly what the term means. When the celebrated 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica defined literature as “the best expression of the best thought reduced to writing,” few dared question it. Now, though, a century of such questioning has broadened the definition so that it can include nearly any text in any human language. Practically speaking, literature’s present-day definition depends on the perspective from which one regards it: scholars of a scientific and theoretical bent tend to view it descriptively (according to form, function, and genre), while those more aesthetically inclined tend to view it prescriptively (according to traditions of arts and humane letters). One perspective typically mistrusts the other.

The study of literature

In its modern descriptive sense, literature denotes written texts; by extension scholars have also applied the term to spoken or sung texts ("oral literature"), writings in particular subject areas ("medical literature"), other collections of material in a given language or national tradition ("English literature"), visual texts such as video and illustration, and published ephemera (“campaign literature”). It is often divided into historical periods ("Victorian literature") as well as into formal categories (prose, poetry, or drama) and genres (such as the epic, the novel, or the folktale).

In its more traditional prescriptive sense (that of the 1911 Britannica), literature connotes a particular quality found in the written culture of humane learning, the profession of “letters” (from Latin litteras), and written texts considered as aesthetic and expressive objects. In that sense, the art of “literature” differs from the science of “language,” as studied by theoretical linguists and cognitive psychologists such as Steven Pinker.

Literature as a subject worthy of academic study was first identified in the nineteenth century. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) traces the English word itself back to the 1200s (when it described familiarity with classical learning); not until the early 1800s was it used in the more modern sense. Classical authors of ancient Greece and Rome generally never recognized the study of “literature” as a discipline per se; rather, they looked at forms such as drama, history, poetry, philosophy, and mythology on their own terms, or in terms of various schools of philosophical or religious thought. With the revival of advanced learning in late medieval and Renaissance Europe, though, the focus of study became classical literature itself—the sense first recorded by the OED; a person of “letters” was one who knew the classical traditions, and could read the classics. Only after literature in modern vernaculars became too significant to ignore did the current sense of the word develop.

European universities long resisted according writers working in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and other vernacular languages the same status in their curricula as that given to writers of classical Latin and Greek. Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and their contemporaries were always conscious of the perceived inferiority of their native language, even as they rivaled and surpassed the literary achievements of their classical predecessors. As scientific learning began to supplant classical learning in the early nineteenth century, universities added philology (the predecessor to modern linguistics) as a discipline, but that field focused more on the historical relationships between languages than on their literature.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the first institutions to offer instruction in literature were not the elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, but those geared toward students seeking to move up in the world, such as the London Working Men's College (founded in 1854). There, much to their surprise, sons of London bricklayers and artisans encountered teachers such as F.J. Furnivall, an early editor of the OED, who opened his classes with the dramatic announcement that he was about to return a national literature to its citizens, and then commenced reading aloud in Middle English from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. At the London Society for the Extension of University Teaching, J.C. Collins stressed the influence of classics on English literature, shifting studies of the language away from philology and toward the present-day discipline of comparative literature. In the United States, the study of literature was introduced at normal schools (schools for the preparation of teachers, mostly women at that time), and subsequently at land grant universities, where English literature was given the place assigned at older universities to reading in Latin and Greek.

Early professors of English literature, among them Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and Henry Morley, devoted much of their attention to establishing a canon of suitable texts for study. In the twentieth century, this led to standardized anthologies, such as the Oxford and Norton anthologies of English literature. With the rise of the New Critics in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, scholars began looking at the literary text as a cultural object—a living repository of tradition extending across ages and civilizations. This movement coincided with expanding post-World War II populations and helped elevate literature’s place and prestige in university curricula. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, proponents of poststructuralist theory began questioning the traditional literary canon and accepted hierarchies: Why, for instance, should lyric poetry be regarded as worthy of literary study, when comic books weren’t? Couldn’t we learn important things about contemporary culture from native American storytelling traditions as well as Italian opera? Practically speaking, this has meant that while college English departments still teach courses in Shakespeare and James Joyce, the sense of a highly exclusive canon of “great writers” is much diminished, and more kinds of literature are fair game for scholarly inquiry.

Literary media

Formal categories


National literatures


Comment on new Intro

Robert, I like your new intro/outtro quite a bit! My only comment, as I mentioned on the forums, is that I'm not certain that "prescriptive" has quite the nuance wanted, or that the divide it suggests, between old school notions of literature qua "the best that has been thought and said" vs. this new, debated territory. After all, even those who today argue for something like this old-school view are just one set of voices among many, which wasn't true in 1911; what was a mere dichotomy has now become a very heterogeneous gaggle of voices, like the house of twigs in Chaucer's The House of Fame. On the other hand, I quite like the frank and open acknowledgement right at the beginning that there are debates going on -- I think that's a great improvement.

If you like, you should feel free replace the opening paragraph, and you can move the old 1st paragraph here -- that's one way to kick-start the wiki process. It forces fans of version 1 to think "hmm, well, ok, what would be lost if we cut this, or what needs to be worked back in in some way?"

I've moved this discussion up to the top of this Talk page so others can see it right off. I hope there are others out there, and that your e-mail posting will bring them back to the wiki! Russell Potter 10:05, 30 April 2007 (CDT)

Russell, If you or anyone can think of a better word than "prescriptive," have at it! I use the word in the sense that RW Burchfield uses in his revision of Fowler's Modern English Usage: He argues that Fowler was a prescriptivist, and that most modern linguistic scholars are descriptivists. I've seen the same distinction made between Noah Webster's approach to dictionary-making, and that employed by the OED folks. Webster tells us how it should be used. The OED tells us (and shows us) how it's actually used.
--Robert Rubin 11:51, 30 April 2007 (CDT)
Yes, exactly the connotation I have of the word (I teach linguistics as well as literature), which makes it seem as though there's a parallel between a traditionalist view of "literature" and the a prescriptivist view of grammatical structure. Whereas, though Fowler's is still updated and useful (to those who desire a prescription), the 11th Britannica's gloss on the field is quite out of date (though I admire its sweet sentiment!). I'm looking for a term that places this view in time as well as in critical theory. Might we use "traditional" or "traditionalist" -- ? Or perhaps that has unwanted connotations of its own ... Russell Potter 12:01, 30 April 2007 (CDT)
I don't think that the 1911 attitude is so much a sentiment as it is an attitude toward art. "Traditionalist" seems needlessly pejorative. I thought about using a Scientific/Artistic dichotomy, but thought the descriptive/prescriptive one was more neutral. Coming from a background in trade book publishing, and creative writing outside of the academy, that's the essential difference I've seen. Ask any bookstore owner, and he'll be able to point you to the small shelf of "literary fiction" hidden between the stacks of potboilers. In my experience, writers interested in expressive work are far more open to the idea that style, "correctness" (or deliberate "incorrectness") and a "literary" attitude are valid considerations than are folks on the publish-or-perish track. Scholars are more suspicious and dismissive of it because their interest is more scientific than aesthetic. Yet, for all the useful deconstructing of old ideas about literature that's been done, those who still aspire to creating it (whatever it is) rather than studying it seem to hold on to the notion that standards still matter. The fact that Fowler, Strunk & White, and their progeny still sell tells me that a lot of people still approach "literature" much as the Good Doctor did "reality":
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."
Boswell: Life
--Robert Rubin 13:51, 30 April 2007 (CDT)
Great anecdote -- though I must admit whenever I think of the Good Doctor today, I see him as portrayed by Robbie Coltrane in the Blackadder episode, "Ink and Incapacity"!
But anyway, the 'rub' here is that, while I don't think CZ needs an arcane, inbred ivory-tower post-deconstructionist account here, I also think it doesn't need a toplevel entry which sets out divisions in "Literature" in the broadest sense right at the beginning. I see your point about certain widespread notions of literature, among them the separation of "literary" from "popular" writing, but I don't see this division as fundamental to the field. To my mind, these sorts of differences ought to be discussed further down in the entry, as aspects of how literature is marketed, read, and taught about today, rather than right at the beginning where, or so I'm assuming, our Faithful Reader desires the broadest possible definition of what literature has been and is. On a personal level, the sentence that makes me feel the most uneasy is "Scholars of a scientific and theoretical bent tend to view it descriptively (according to form, function, and genre), while those more aesthetically inclined tend to view it prescriptively" since I see myself as *both* theoretical and yet also aesthetic, and I'd hate to see either party's view classed as either baby or bathwater, lest both get the toss!
You may disagree -- not a problem! -- I just wish there were three or four other active editors in this area; if we all weighed in and just started editing away at what we have here (as the Biology editors did with their main article Life), then I am confident that, sooner or later, a great toplevel article will result. You should not hesitate to edit away anyway, and I will do the same; it may be easier to do this than to hash out all our views on the Talk page. We can do both. But I do fear it may be a bit of a teeter-totter until more Literature folk come aboard; I hope that the call on the mailing list will wake up some who have been sleeping! Cheers, Russell Potter 15:18, 30 April 2007 (CDT)
P.S. I forgot to add, I really like the last paragraph of your new intro draft -- it seems to strike just the right tone, and touches the right bases, without seeming too "academic" in tone! Russell Potter 17:42, 30 April 2007 (CDT)
Thanks! I won't fight to the death over the distinction. I've gone ahead and replaced the first paragraph, as you suggested, and will add the rest of the intro shortly. Here's what I've cut:
Literature, in its most basic sense a body of "letters" (from the Latin litteras), refers generally to a body of written texts in any human languages. By extension the term has also been applied to spoken texts ("oral literature"), a body of writings on a particular subject area (e.g., "medical literature"), or other collections of material in a given language or national tradition ("English literature"). Literature is often divided into historical periods ("Victorian literature") as well as into formal categories (prose, poetry, or drama) and genres (such as the epic, the novel, or the folktale).
==The study of literature==
Literature, at least the vernacular literature of western nations, has only been a recognized subject of academic study since the late nineteenth century. The curriculum of the medieval universities included grammar, but this meant only Latin grammar; in the early nineteenth century, philology was added as a discipline, but this field was far more concerned with the historical relationships between languages than it was with the literature in those languages.
In the United Kingdom, the first instititions to offer instruction in literature were those geared toward the working classes, such as the London Working Men's College, founded in 1854. There, much to their surprise, the bricklayers and artisans of London encountered teachers such as F.J. Furnivall, who opened his classes with the dramatic annoucement that he was about to return a national literature to its citizens, and then commenced reading aloud from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English.
In the United States, the study of literature was introduced at normal schools (schools for the preparation of teachers, mostly women at that time), and subsequently at land grant universities, where English literature was given the place assigned at older universities to reading in Latin and Greek. Early professors of English literature, among them Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and Henry Morley, devoted much of their attention to establishing a canon of suitable texts for study. In the twentieth century, this led to the production of standardized anthologies, such as the Norton Anthology of English Literature.
--Robert Rubin 19:08, 30 April 2007 (CDT)
OK, thanks for the 'clips' of the cut material. I'm going to tinker a bit with the introductory section. I do think there are indeed differing perspectives between the more theory-inflected study of literature, which empasizes difference and a more traditionalist (tho' I'll not use that word in the article) view of great books which emphasized continuity. This, I think, is a more accurate set of terms with which to set forth the philosophical differences in the field. Note, I removed "scientific" since the more theoretcially-inclined critics are also the same who cast considerable skepticism on the notion that the study of literature could be, now or ever, a science. Russell Potter 07:57, 1 May 2007 (CDT)

Previous Discussion

OK, let's have at it

After a long (relatively) hiatus, I've decided to return to working on CZ, but just one item at a time -- in this case, the main entry for Literature. While I glanced at the WP entry long enough to see that it was not all that satisfactory, I am writing this entry from scratch. I'd certainly appreciate the advice/collaboration/editing/wikifying skills of any and all CZ folk in this effort. I want this article to read, look, and be an approval-worthy top level entry.

One thing right off the top: I think we need a good image for this page. WP has some old leather books from the Bodleian Library, but I think we could do better. Maybe something like the montage that the Biology writers and editors devised?

I'll be tapping away at this over the next week or so, hoping to get it in general, overall shape.

Russell Potter 12:34, 11 March 2007 (CDT)

Names and usage

Many thanks to John Kenney for raising the question of names.

I'm not committed to any one protocol, but agree we should try to be as consistent as possible. With writers who have chosen a one-name nom-de-plume, such as Molière, there's no first name to use; with some, such as Shakespeare, the author is so well known as not to need one. In a few cases, such as the Brontë sisters or George Eliot/T.S. Eliot a first name is needed to avoid confusion.

I'd suggest that we use only the surname, except in the kinds of cases outlined above -- what do you think?

Thanks also for adding Ibsen, his name should certainly be there! I also would like to ask all editors/authors whether we want to list exemplary authors or texts; they can be so useful for illustrative purposes, but it is possible that we could end up in a long series of edits as users put in (or take out) those writers whom they feel are worthy ... what do you think?

BTW, Dionysos is actually the older standard spelling -- I use Robert Graves's Greek Myths and he spells it thusly -- but I am happy with Dionysus as well if that's the consensus. See the reference entry here.

Russell Potter 18:01, 11 March 2007 (CDT)

Are we talking about what names to use in this article, or what names to use for article titles? On the former, I think it's good practice to give a person's whole name on a first reference. On the latter, I think if a person is basically known by their first and last name, it makes more sense to use this as an article title. This is certainly how most encyclopedias do it. For Chekhov, for instance, Columbia's article is at "Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich," Encarta's at "Anton Chekhov," and Britannica's at "Chekhov,Anton".

In terms of exemplary authors, I think it's basically worthwhile to list some, but we should be careful to keep the lists relatively short. Discussing drama without mentioning at least some of the Athenians, Shakespeare, and Ibsen would seem absurd, for instance, as would discussing the novel without mentioning Dickens, Tolstoy, and Joyce. On the other hand, you're right that it would be easy for it to get out of hand.

In terms of Dionysus vs. Dionysos, I'll refer again to the "other encyclopedias" test - Columbia, Encarta, and Britannica all use "Dionysus." "Dionysos" is a closer rendering of the Greek, while "Dionysus" is Latinized, but I think that about 90% of usages in English for ancient Greek names in General are to the Latinized version. I'm not sure what exactly the naming rules are here (as opposed to that other place), but I think in cases like this a "most commonly used form in English" rule makes the most sense. There has been a recent tendency towards using the more faithful rendering, but I don't think it's anywhere near dominant. Graves is generally rather idiosyncratic on these subjects, and is probably not a good guide to follow. John Kenney 18:20, 11 March 2007 (CDT)

Many thanks for your thoughts here. For main entries (article titles), I am all for full names; when mentioned as figures in a list I am a bit less certain. In your own post, you say "Dickens, Tolstoy, and Joyce," which suggests exactly how I would handle those names (they would of course be piped from wikilinks to [[Joyce, James Aloysius]]. So would you agree, that within articles, we'll just use surnames except in cases where that would render the name ambiguous?
I also find myself obliged to agree with you that we should use Dionysus; it certainly seems to be the reference consensus, though I am always partial to "closer rendering of the Greek" in my own writing. Graves is indeed idiosyncratic -- just what I like about him! -- I only meant, over the years I've gotten rather used to his usage.
Someday, when CZ has its own copyediting style sheet, we can pass over these matters! -- but for now, in hopes that this entry can become an exemplary one, I think dotting all i's and crossing all t's in order.

with many thanks,

Russell Potter 18:45, 11 March 2007 (CDT)

In terms of the issue of first names in general references, as I said before I would prefer to give full names on first mention. In an informal discussion using last names alone is fine, but I think in a formal article it is better to give the full name. This is, for instance, standard journalistic practice, and I think tends to be the way that encyclopedia articles and similar are written. I don't think it's an incredibly big deal, but I'd prefer, "Examples of famous novelists include Charles Dickens, James Joyce, and Jane Austen," to "Examples of famous novelists include Dickens, Joyce, and Austen. The latter seems informal and potentially confusing. Best, John Kenney 18:51, 11 March 2007 (CDT)

Prose writers

Is it correct to say that literary prose first appears in the middle ages with Boccaccio? There are a lot of historians in the ancient world - Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, Tacitus - who are considered to be of literary value, as well as essayists and letter writers like Cicero, Plutarch, and Pliny the Younger. Beyond that, there are certainly classical writers who wrote in a similar vein to Boccaccio - Petronius and Apuleius come to mind as Roman "novelists." To say nothing of eastern works like the Tale of Genji (or the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which was roughly contemporary with Boccaccio). And the Bible... John Kenney 18:58, 11 March 2007 (CDT)

Good point. Well, perhaps one should say "prose written with a self-conscious desire that it be received as literature" -- I would class Cicero with rhetoricians, Plutarch with biographers, and Pliny with historians. Petronius may be a tricky case -- and with the Tale of Genji we come to another issue this entry faces, which is whether non-Western forms which are, or seem to be, roughly parallel with or equivalent to, the genres or forms of the Euro-Greco-Roman tradition commonly thought of as "Western" should be referenced. I have gone a step in this direction with Li Po -- should we go further? I rather think we should . . .
The other issue, as to whether texts with religious purport such as the Bible, which can *also* be read literarily, ought to be counted, is no less thorny ...
Russell Potter 19:09, 11 March 2007 (CDT)
I agree there's a lot of thorny issues here. But Cicero's and Pliny's personal letters, at least, can hardly be seen as rhetorical or historical works. That being said, I would agree that they don't constitute self-conscious literature - they were letters. Plutarch, on the other hand, wrote the Moralia as well as the Lives, and those were definitely essays, although moralistic essays. Certainly Plutarch would not have been seen in his own day as an "artist," I don't think. But the Latin prose writers of the 1st and 2nd centuries would certainly seem to qualify, I think. And I certainly agree that we should discuss non-western forms. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana should be discussed alongside the Iliad and Odyssey as epics, and I think Genji and the Three Kingdoms should probably be discussed alongside the novel. Kalidasa and No theater are probably worth mentioning alongside the western tradition, too. John Kenney 19:14, 11 March 2007 (CDT)
Good points all! Well, I am very glad to have your energies here (I see you are also working on World War I! -- let's edit away and see how things shape up!
Russell Potter 19:25, 11 March 2007 (CDT)

Novelistic exemplars

The current list of novelists seems heavily focused on the English language - only Proust wrote in another language. I would suggest a) separating out discussion of the 19th century novel from that of the 20th; and b) including somewhat more writers. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Balzac should probably be mentioned for the 19th century, as pretty uncontroversially "canonical" authors. I'm less sure of who might be added for the 20th (Mann seems a likely choice). But I'm not really sure. For the moment, I'm just going to add Tolstoy. John Kenney 20:00, 11 March 2007 (CDT)

Oh, never mind, Tolstoy's already there. I'm stupid. John Kenney 20:00, 11 March 2007 (CDT)


Russell, Your recent edit reminded me you wanted some feedback re: this article. I'm sorry but I am a neophyte when it comes to literature. Looking through, one thing that might be useful to add is Beowulf. It certainly made a large impression on me when I was a kid. Chris Day (Talk) 22:28, 15 March 2007 (CDT)

Another thing that I found interesting was that Dickens was serialised in the newspapers. This certainly must have had an effect on the style of writing, or maybe not? Anyway, it might be worth a mention; was it normal to be serialised rather than come out with a whole book? As far as modern literature, is there such a thing a pop literature? Certainly the Maus books by Spiegelman were basically a comic strip but seemed to be serious work. But could it be classified as literature? Chris Day (Talk) 22:36, 15 March 2007 (CDT)
Hey Chris, thanks for your feedback -- it's very helpful indeed. We do need some language here adressing the role of periodicals and serialized fiction (I'm an enormous Dickens fan and have done a bit of work on his entry as well). Also graphic novels absolutely need a mention; I am certain that at least some (Spiegelman, Alan Moore, et. al.) *do* count as literature (they're anthologized, taught in literature classes, and picking up the odd Pulitzer!). I'll try adding some references to both -- my only uncertainty is where exactly to place them. Russell Potter 07:24, 16 March 2007 (CDT)
I would suggest that the article is at the moment so skeletal that it may take some time and expansion before it becomes clear where such subjects should go. Discussion of serialization, for instance, would clearly fall into a discussion of the development of the 19th century novel, which at the moment is virtually non-existent. John Kenney 12:11, 16 March 2007 (CDT)
Hmm -- "skeletal," I don't think I'd use quite that term! My goal here is to create a toplevel article which *surveys* the subject as broadly and succinctly as possible -- but I feel very strongly that such an article is *not* the place to give a *detailed* history of things such as "19th century novel" or "science fiction" or "Romanticism" -- these each deserve a separate article of their own. If Literature becomes too encumbered with detail, it loses its value as a readable toplevel overview. I do think, though, that significant developments such as serialization, graphic novels, or the rise of the paperback after WWII deserve *mention* here. So, for instance, the entry for Novel would have a fairly extensive treatment of serialization in the nineteenth century as part of its historical survey, but I would not want that level of fine-grained detail here in this article. Russell Potter 15:05, 16 March 2007 (CDT)
Just thought of this, wrt things like graphic novels and science fiction, is that we ought to explicitly discuss the issue of whether such forms are, in fact, literature. The Britannica article spends a fair amount of time dealing with the distinction between what is literature and what is not. (Poetry which is not literature, for instance, is, according to Britannica, "verse." Britannica also states that while many novels are literature, many others are not.) While I don't think we should actually take a position as to what is literature or what is not, the question of which literary forms qualify as literature, and about the very issue of literary merit, ought to definitely be discussed here. Both the traditional, limited definition of literature and a broader view that incorporates a wider variety of things should be highlighted. John Kenney 16:49, 16 March 2007 (CDT)
In fact, I think this entry is already about as long as I think it should be, although if we can add some additional material on non-Western literatures (which are notably underrepresented in the current version), then that might justify a longer entry. We might also want a few highlighted links (WP has them) to the next level down of detail. Russell Potter 15:11, 16 March 2007 (CDT)
Hmm, yes. I wasn't actually trying to attack the quality of the article at present. The issue was more what you say - this is a survey, and the reason it's hard to figure out where a detailed discussion of serialization would fit in is because it is quite possible that it does not fit into the article as currently comprised, unless we want to make it considerably more detailed.
That being said, there might be some merit in turning the article into a more detailed overview. The Britannica article "literature" is 34 (online) pages long. Traditionally, encyclopedia articles about big topics tend to be long and detailed and to go on a long way to try to provide a much more detailed overview of the subject than this article aims to do. There's not necessarily any reason to insist on very short overview articles, although this is obviously a question that goes far beyond this article alone. But I've always thought that wikipedia articles on broad subject matters are generally the worst thing about wikipedia, other than subjects that are bound to become political battlegrounds. For obscure subjects, wikipedia pretty clearly already has better coverage than traditional encyclopedias like Britannica, even though the quality is widely various. But if I want to know about a particular species of antelope, or a particular 16th century battle, or what not, wikipedia is much more likely to have it than other encyclopedias, and the content is often passable. For subjects of broader interest, other than the aforementioned political battleground articles, wikipedia content is generally not going to be as good as a traditional encyclopedia, but the quality is still going to be okay. But for general articles on whole fields, wikipedia articles are invariably terrible, and I think this has a lot to do with the length requirements. It's hard to write an article on literature or biology or whatever which tells you very much in the confines of the length requirement, and it's virtually impossible to compete with the very lengthy treatment of a Britannica, even if all the other problems with wikipedia are removed (particularly the fact that articles on big subjects like that tend to be edited piecemeal, without much real oversight). John Kenney 16:38, 16 March 2007 (CDT)

Toplevel article length

Hey, you are talking to someone who bought a full set of the Encyclopedia Britannica ("Propedia," "Macropedia," and all) back in 1985!

I quite agree that "Wikipedia articles on broad subject matters are generally the worst thing about wikipedia," but I also feel strongly that online textual space functions *very* differently from print space. Since anyone who encounters a linked term (mostly red here, though blue on WP) has the choice to click on it, we have to think of what people are looking for in terms of the new, shorter attention-span world (while giving those who really want detailed information the quick means to obtain it).

It actually reminds me of the old EB "Propedia" approach -- toplevel articles are primarily an "index" to knowledge, a secondary level exists for general reference (the "Micropedia," as I recall), and a final, highly granular but also exhaustive level (Macropedia) -- except that in wiki-land, as in Looking Glass Land, you have to run as fast as you can to stay in one place. That is, the most exhaustive level now comes in the middle, the moderate level is the starting point, and the most detailed, most indexable level comes last (or, once CZ gains critical mass, quite possibly first). 90% of all traffic will be lateral, not topdown hierachical, so we need to give good, relevelant, knowledge at each.

My thought is that toplevel shold be summary, broad, wide-ranging, some attempt to answer the query "What is Literature?" (or Biology, or any other field of endeavor. The mid-level entries should be the stongest (and likely the longest), and should lay out the detailed ground of things such as "history of the Novel" or "Elizabethan drama." The last tier needs also to be succinct, but is limited to items, such as individual works (Bleak House, The Wife of Bath's Tale, or individual terms (parody, synecdoche, amanuensis), and so forth. We need a *fat middle*, along with slender toplevel and an economical bottom level, if we are to compete in the wiki-knowledge game ....

So I want to say, yes, I want to be able to expand beyond what print-bound encyclopedias can do at the "general" level, but not by making our "general" articles so exhaustive as to be wearisome!

Russell Potter 18:55, 16 March 2007 (CDT)

This seems like a sensible way to view it. I wonder about the idea of creating subpages. At wikipedia, at some point before I started there, it was allowed to create subpages for long articles. Thus you'd have American Civil War/Origins or Canada/Geography, rather than what you now have, which is Origins of the American Civil War or Geography of Canada. This was banned at some point before I started (which was in 2003), on the grounds that it created a hierarchy, when in fact "knowledge was free", or some such nonsense. It might be worth thinking about the possibility of having multiple pages that are clearly conceived to be part of the same article. John Kenney 10:28, 17 March 2007 (CDT)

Literary Media

Maybe this is a bit nit picky, but if we are on the topic of phonetic systems of writing, shouldn't syllabic systems (as occuring in some cuneiform and post hieroglyphic transitions) also be mentioned in the evolution of literary media? I recognize that these are also phonetic, but they are a part of the whole historical perspective, and might be worth some discussion, if not a mere mention. I didn't want to edit them in without some agreeable feedback.

Yours in the effort,

Raymond Reeves

Thanks for the note! Go ahead and edit -- you'll see where early writing systems are alluded to, and you can mention this aspect, somewhere between pictographic and alphabetic systems. Eventually, I imagine we'll want an article specifically on writing systems, where we could show cuneiform, or a series showing the transition from hieroglyphic to hieratic to demotic - but I do want the toplevel entry to at least mention the key points.
Russell Potter 08:30, 17 March 2007 (CDT)

Introduction to Literature

Although it may seem odd even mentioning, I recognize the current definition of "literature" is narrowed only to "human language", but a future definition (perhaps more presently than most might realize) would, could, and certainly should include literature written by potential alien allies, enemies, or neutrals. It could even include recorded transcriptions of artistic expressions from animals, we are only beginning to communicate with intelligibly, such as the songs of the hump back whales, or the signing of various ape subjects in language learning experiments. This may sound far fetched, but I am trying to be forward thinking in suggesting that we use the term "languages" in the introduction without the adjective "human" which I think is a limiting modifier. It's a peculiar suggestion, I know, but it would be nice to have this Wiki, future oriented.

Yours with an Eye on the Edge,

Raymond Reeves


Raymond's phrase "Poetry also, almost always makes use of a vital and expressive means of communication to reflect a rather condensed version of the internal or external experience" needs, I think, some refinement. "Vital" and "expressive" are somewhat vague terms, and "interntal or external" hedges its bets; maybe something like Wordworth's 'emotion recollected in tranquility," something more pithy. Poetry is notoriously difficult to characterize in affective terms, and some do not even see poetry as "expressing" emotion at all -- T.S. Eliot famously remarked the poetry was not the "expression of emotion" but an "escape from emotion" -- so I think that if this toplevel article talks about poetry it should be in broad terms that encompass this range of possibilities. In the *main* entry for Poetry, however, I do think a discussion of affect vis-a-vis Poetry would be a good idea ... just my thoughts of the moment. Russell Potter 09:58, 25 March 2007 (CDT)

Old English—Could someone take another look at the mention of Old English literature under "Formal categories"? It calls Old English lit metrical, but this seems slightly misleading since OE meter is based only on the number of alliterative stresses, but not any regular metrical counting of syllables. An OE line counts the stressed alliterative syllables, but not the unstressed ones. Harmon's Handbook to Literature describes it as "essentially an accentual system . . . consisting of equal numbers of accented syllables to the LINE and varying numbers of unaccented syllables." Wouldn't it be more accurate to call it "alliterative verse"?

--Robert Rubin 21:33, 1 May 2007 (CDT)

Again, The Introduction to the Literature Section

I agree the terms "vital" and "expressive" are a bit vague, but my main concern, as you so astutely recognized, was to include something about the affective aspects of poetry. I also wanted to describe the density of feeling\experience that is so often captured in poetry, not just the density of its language mechanisms. I used "internal" and "external" to refer to experiences, and once again, I agree with you that "some refinement" is needed. As to the argument about whether poetry is emotional or not, perhaps we can include the Wordsworth quote you supplied, along with Shakespeare's vision of "The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,..." so we cover both sides of the issue. When I come up with a tighter passage, I'll run it through the Talk pages for discussion, instead of editing it in without your supervision.

Yours in the effort,

Raymond Reeves

Hi Raymond. I really appreciate your contributions and time here! I think that we can craft a sentence, with an allusion to Wordsworth, which would certainly *note* the important role of affective feeling in a good deal of poetry. The trick is to do so in a way that doesn't exclude poetry written within models other than the classic Romantic one. We have to encompass everything from Beowulf to Sappho to Ezra Pound here in this toplevel article, and yet without sounding so vague and general that we make it useless as a reference. What I might suggest is (perhaps) working on the start of the main entry for Poetry itself, which can and should have a much more in-depth discussion of these very issues, and (perhaps) by separating out formal matters (rhyme, metre, etc.) would thus clear a far more expansive ground for a discussion of the affective/expressive models of poetry .... Russell Potter 09:14, 26 March 2007 (CDT)

Steven Totosy's works

Hi Steven,

Good to see another person working on this entry! I do have a concern, though, about listing too many of one's own books on a toplevel entry such as this one. Certainly, it sounds as though, when we have an entry for Comparative Literature, your work might well be listed in this section, but at least until the toplevel enry has a longer bibliography, it seems to me that we should list here only the most general top-level books, and be selective. Unless someone here has edited a widely-used general study or anthology, I think Editors should recuse themselves from adding their own books at top level.

With articles not at top level, I don't think it's an issue, but it might be seen as self-promoting given that these are the highest, broadest, and (hopefully) most *collective* entries . . . . just a thought. Cheers, Russell Potter 15:09, 30 April 2007 (CDT)

Shall I feature this as a developed article on Thursday?

This article is a pleasure to read. Do you need additional editors for approval? Shall I feature this on the Thursday night rundown of the Approvals page? Nancy Sculerati 08:39, 2 May 2007 (CDT)

Hi Nancy -- and many thanks for the kind words! I'd be delighted if you'd feature it on Thursday. It's *almost* there -- just the last section, I think, needs a bit more attention! -- but since we've finally gotten a couple of fresh hands here, it's been moving along nicely! Russell Potter 10:31, 2 May 2007 (CDT)

Well, I will feature it then, and gladly. Are there any other articles in your workgroup that you suggest I might look at? Nancy Sculerati 11:11, 2 May 2007 (CDT)
Well, we have a few more that are coming along -- for a while, Bonny Hicks was on its way to approval, though in recent months it's not had any attention. I'm also rather fond of The Frozen Deep, which was one of my first efforts here -- but since so far I've been nearly the only person working on it, I'm a bit uncertain as to whether it should be seen as fully "developed"; the collective editorial finishing-work, such as you and the others in the Biology Workgroup do so well, hasn't quite built momentum here yet (though having the entry featured may help change that, I hope! Russell Potter 14:34, 2 May 2007 (CDT)


Could captions please be added to the images? Also, it is possible to replace Image:Bookshelf.jpg with an image that hasn't been digitally processed? Fredrik Johansson 09:45, 3 May 2007 (CDT)

Fredrik, yes, I'll add captions to these. But for now, please leave the digitally processed image; I chose it for a reason, which is that, were any specific titles visible, it might seem to promote those as necessarily representative of literature, which I'd like very much to avoid! Thanks, Russell Potter 10:37, 3 May 2007 (CDT)
Good thinking, but maybe it could be done without making the image look artificial. For example, would it not be possible to hide the titles by taking the shot from an angle? Fredrik Johansson 18:11, 3 May 2007 (CDT)
I'll give it a try. Any others have an opinion on this image? Russell Potter 19:19, 3 May 2007 (CDT)
It does look a bit odd, but I hadn't noticed it until my attention was called to it. Have you seen this web page? It has some public domain images:
--Robert Rubin 19:00, 4 May 2007 (CDT)
Thanks, Robert, I have switched the image for one of the ones you suggested -- looks great! Russell Potter 19:41, 4 May 2007 (CDT)

Literature Editor will nominate for Approval

I have only a few minor suggestions:

In the paragraph beginning "European universities long resisted...": universities added philology (the predecessor to modern linguistics) I would prefer "predecessor OF" but I can't cite a rule or authority for my preference.

Under "Scope of Literature" although it is more common to separate out as "literature" only those texts which contain a degree of imaginative, emotive, allegoric, didactic, or descriptive content.

I don't like "separate out" I class it with "return back." Perhaps instead it could be "it is more common to designate as "literature" only those..."

Under Literary Media I would prefer "adolescent" to "teen" (teen literature)

Under National Literature: " In addition, as writers from colonized areas take up the languages of their former colonizers, postcolonial literature has emerged as a significant area of new writing."

1. I think it is the "area" that is "new." Additionally, I would prefer a word other than "area" in this context. new "corpus" maybe, or "new body."

Finally, under Genres: Táin Bó Cúailnge. I don't think there's an accent on the u in Cuailnge

I nominate the Literature article for approval in a week.

M. J. Maddox

Many thanks for these perceptive comments. I will tend to them all.
p.s. On the Irish epic, the Táin Bó Cúailnge, I'm following the usage of Patrick Brown, our resident CZ expert in this area. Russell Potter 19:18, 3 May 2007 (CDT)
What a great article, Bravo!!! Soso Mamukelashvili 10:23, 18 May 2007 (CDT)

APPROVED Version 1.0

Congratulations on the first Literature Workgroup Article! Keep going! --Matt Innis (Talk) 19:53, 10 May 2007 (CDT)

Really? Article of the Week? I don't think it is that good.

I questioned the quality of this article and decided to show it to my friends who were English majors at Ivy league schools. They didn't think the article was that great either. However, I could not get them to join CZ and make it better. I will keep trying to get them to join. Tom Kelly 09:37, 31 July 2007 (CDT)

or is article of the week the article we are all working on to improve this week? Tom Kelly 09:38, 31 July 2007 (CDT)
Just read about it. Sorry to go against popular vote. It's got some great qualities and does have some great features of a CZ article but it could be improved a lot. Have we designed a quality scale rating system? Tom Kelly 09:41, 31 July 2007 (CDT)
Tom, as a person with an English Ph.D. from an Ivy League school, I think the artice is pretty good -- balanced, comprehensive, and yet of course "an introduction" to a very broad subject. It has a lot of ground to cover, including world literature as well as Western literature, and so at present exists at a relatively high degree of generality. I think it's a great candidate for article of the week -- but then again, I am almost certainly biased, as I wrote most of it.  :-)
We do have a quality scale, but at present it has only three levels: Draft (not yet ready for prime time space), normal, and Approved, our highest level -- Literature was one of our first Approved articles.
Nevertheless, the wiki world is all about further improvement, all about change, so you should absolutely work to make it better if you see ways to do so -- no need to wait for someone else to give you permission! Dive in! The Approved version is meant, eventually, , to be replaced by an improved Draft version, with the support of expert editors in the field of Literature. Russell Potter 09:48, 31 July 2007 (CDT)
Tom, what are their/your actual reasons for finding the article to be not that great? Were they expecting more breadth depth or just better written? I read it and it seems very interesting although its out of my area so i can't critique it. Chris Day (talk) 10:07, 31 July 2007 (CDT)

Seems true

...but somehow obvious: "Although their names imply otherwise, national literatures often emerged before or after the emergence of modern nation-states." That's a pretty adventuresome claim... --Larry Sanger 10:06, 31 July 2007 (CDT)

That's an uncaught typo -- the text should read simply "before the emergence" Russell Potter 11:21, 31 July 2007 (CDT)

I will fix that as a typo.  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 22:05, 31 July 2007 (CDT)
Thanks, Steve!! Russell Potter 22:07, 31 July 2007 (CDT)

Homeward bound

I moved the paragraph that I moved before to a better location right up front a;most where it came from. Looks perfect right there. Thomas Mandel 00:54, 1 August 2007 (CDT)

I dissent!

Unless we expose - and in a manner I am not capable to I do concede it - Ezra Pound's views about literature[1], then a Literature page at Citizendium is not ready to be posted. [2]RICARDO Gomes de Paiva DE FARIA 08:53, 19 July 2009 (UTC)

What about Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Westerns, other genre writing, and pulp fiction generally? Is some of it literature too?

So things like Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Westerns, other genre writing, and pulp fiction generally may not be taught about much in college English classes, but some of it at least IS (in my view) real Literature. How should we, or can we, incorporate such modern genres into this article? They are definitely in the Lit. workgroup.Pat Palmer (talk) 20:00, 2 May 2021 (UTC)