Theories of Literature
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Theories of Literature. By HariPriya Archana Raja Aayesha Ghanekar. Literature. What is Literature? It is sometimes defined as ‘anything written’ However we can surely distinguish between literature in the sense of any writing and literature in the sense of of verbal works of art

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Theories of Literature

By

HariPriya

Archana Raja

Aayesha Ghanekar


Literature l.jpg
Literature

  • What is Literature?

  • It is sometimes defined as ‘anything written’

  • However we can surely distinguish between literature in the sense of any writing and literature in the sense of of verbal works of art

  • Robert Frost said,” Literature is a performance in words”

  • Another view holds that literature has in it, a sense of entertaining display and provides pleasure in addition to the element of ‘truth’ involved


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The Imitative theory

  • Aristotle – Art is an imitation of something – thing, person or event, in our world

  • Recreation or representation in a form not natural to it

  • Imitative instinct innate in humans, coupled with rhythm, harmony & pattern, it forms art

  • Art draws only on the perfect example and not the imperfect aspects of nature – “Artist refines nature”

  • Art is imaginative and interpretive, representation is as the artist perceives it

  • Blind imitation? No, creativity is in artist’s outlook


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  • Art – insight into reality?

  • Value of art begins to depend on its truth, but is this always necessary? - Taj Mahal – how can it tell the truth? - Julius Caesar – will we ever learn from it when we are Roman tyrants ourselves?

  • Imititative theory cannot encompass all aspects of literature as an art - Hitchhiker’s Guide – reality???

  • Representative theory – H2G2 represents a possibility of whatalien life and the future might be like.


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The Expressive theory forms of art and most genres of literature as well

  • Wordsworth:

  • "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings“… the poet’s job is "to treat of things not as they are...but as they seem to exist to the senses, and the passions.“

  • Some aspects of the theory:

  • The artist does not imitate the external world, but expresses the world within him.

  • "Truth" has nothing to do with literature.

  • The sincerity of the emotion being expressed is indicative of the "trueness" of the work


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  • Discussion: forms of art and most genres of literature as well

  • How can we say if an emotion is sincere or not?

  • -We just cannot!

  • What is the value of expressive writing?

  • -Proponents of the expressive theory say that upon reading how another person feels, our own sensibilities are awakened.

  • -It is a way of expanding and enriching one's personality.


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Continuous as the stars that shine forms of art and most genres of literature as well

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

~Wordsworth (Daffodils)


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An expressionist painting by Edvard Munch : "The Scream" forms of art and most genres of literature as well

Munch described his inspiration for the image thus: "I was walking along a path with two friends—the sun was setting—suddenly the sky turned blood red—I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence—there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city—my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety—and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."


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The Affective theory forms of art and most genres of literature as well

  • This theory holds that a piece of art ought to arouse some emotion or at least affect the perceiver in some way

  • In Alexander Pope’s words, the artist

  • “Gives my heart a thousand pains

  • Can make make me feel each passion that he feigns

  • Enrage,compose,with more than magic of art

  • With pity and with terror tear my heart

  • And snatch me o’er the earth or through the air

  • To Thebes, to Athens, when he will, and where “


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The Affective theory (contd.) forms of art and most genres of literature as well

  • These theories also hold that stimulation of certain emotions is good

  • Most readers seek emotional stimulus from books and they want to identify themselves with the central character

  • It also insists that the main aim is not to induce a temporary emotional state, but to induce an emotional state that will lead to some kind of action

  • Finally as Ezekiel Phalele says , the best poetry is one, that has a ‘memorable’ expression of ‘revolutionary passion and ideas’


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Among the books that Gandhi read, the two that ‘affected’ him deeply were

The Bhagavad Gita

and

On the Duty of Civil Disobedienceby Thoreau


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Tentative Conclusions ‘affected’ him deeply were

  • Back to the opening question : What is Literature?

  • The simple truth is that there is no satisfactory answer !

  • But it is possible for us to say that works of art:

  • Give an insight into reality ( as the imitative theory holds)

  • Broaden our awareness of possibilities of experience( as the expressive theory holds )

  • They valuably affect our nervous system (as the affective theory holds)

  • However, all of these theories need not hold for a piece of art. They just contribute to a deeper and a more conscious awareness of what is valuable in the works we read.


From the movie dead poets society l.jpg

From the movie, ‘affected’ him deeply were Dead Poets Society:

“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”


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