Science as Observation and Experiment a. He asks the reader to carefully observe an eyeball, say that of an ox, from which a portion of the rear has been removed with sufficient care to leave the eyeball fluid untouched. The portion removed is covered with a thin piece of paper.
But not everything expressed in words—even when organized and written down—is counted as literature. Those writings that are primarily informative—technical, scholarly, journalistic—would be excluded from the rank of literature by most, though not all, critics.
Certain forms of writing, however, are universally regarded as belonging to literature as an art. Individual attempts within these forms are said to succeed if they possess something called artistic merit and to fail if they do not.
The nature of artistic merit is less easy to define than to recognize. The writer need not even pursue it to attain it. On the contrary, a scientific exposition might be of great literary value and a pedestrian poem of none at all.
The purest or, at least, the most intense literary form is the lyric poem, and after it comes elegiac, epic, dramatic, narrative, and expository verse.
Most theories of literary criticism base themselves on an analysis of poetrybecause the aesthetic problems of literature are there presented in their simplest and purest form.
Poetry that fails as literature is not called poetry at all but verse. The Greeks thought of history as one of the seven arts, inspired by a goddess, the muse Clio.
The essay was once written deliberately as a piece of literature: Today most essays are written as expository, informative journalismalthough there are still essayists in the great tradition who think of themselves as artists.
Now, as in the past, some of the greatest essayists are critics of literature, drama, and the arts. Some examples of this biographical literature were written with posterity in mind, others with no thought of their being read by anyone but the writer.
Some are in a highly polished literary style; others, couched in a privately evolved language, win their standing as literature because of their cogency, insight, depth, and scope. Many works of philosophy are classed as literature.
The Dialogues of Plato 4th century bc are written with great narrative skill and in the finest prose; the Meditations of the 2nd-century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius are a collection of apparently random thoughts, and the Greek in which they are written is eccentric.
Yet both are classed as literature, while the speculations of other philosophers, ancient and modern, are not. Certain scientific works endure as literature long after their scientific content has become outdated. This is particularly true of books of natural history, where the element of personal observation is of special importance.
Oratorythe art of persuasion, was long considered a great literary art. The oratory of the American Indianfor instance, is famous, while in Classical Greece, Polymnia was the muse sacred to poetry and oratory.
Today, however, oratory is more usually thought of as a craft than as an art. Most critics would not admit advertising copywriting, purely commercial fiction, or cinema and television scripts as accepted forms of literary expression, although others would hotly dispute their exclusion.
The test in individual cases would seem to be one of enduring satisfaction and, of course, truth. Indeed, it becomes more and more difficult to categorize literature, for in modern civilization words are everywhere.
Man is subject to a continuous flood of communication. Most of it is fugitive, but here and there—in high-level journalism, in television, in the cinema, in commercial fiction, in westerns and detective stories, and in plain, expository prose—some writing, almost by accident, achieves an aesthetic satisfaction, a depth and relevance that entitle it to stand with other examples of the art of literature.
Critical theories Western If the early Egyptians or Sumerians had critical theories about the writing of literature, these have not survived. From the time of Classical Greece until the present day, however, Western criticism has been dominated by two opposing theories of the literary art, which might conveniently be called the expressive and constructive theories of composition.
The Greek philosopher and scholar Aristotle is the first great representative of the constructive school of thought. His Poetics the surviving fragment of which is limited to an analysis of tragedy and epic poetry has sometimes been dismissed as a recipe book for the writing of potboilers.
Certainly, Aristotle is primarily interested in the theoretical construction of tragedy, much as an architect might analyze the construction of a temple, but he is not exclusively objective and matter of fact.
He does, however, regard the expressive elements in literature as of secondary importance, and the terms he uses to describe them have been open to interpretation and a matter of controversy ever since. Its standards are almost entirely expressive. Where Aristotle is analytical and states general principles, the pseudo-Longinus is more specific and gives many quotations: Thus, at the beginning of Western literary criticism, the controversy already exists.
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