Introduction to literary studies

Look up the term literature in any current encyclopedia and you will be struck by the vagueness
of its usage as well as by an inevitable lack of substance in the attempts to define it. In most
cases, literature is referred to as the entirety of written expression, with the restriction that not
every written document can be categorized as literature in the more exact sense of the word. The
definitions, therefore, usually include additional adjectives such as “aesthetic” or “artistic” in
order to distinguish literary works from texts for everyday use such as telephone: books,
newspapers, legal documents, and scholarly writings.
Etymologically, the Latin word litteratura derives from littera (letter), which is the smallest
element of alphabetical writing. The word text is related to textile and translates as “fabric”: just
as single threads form a fabric, so words and sentences form a meaningful and coherent text. The
origins of the two central terms are, therefore, not of great help in defining literature or text. It is
more enlightening to look at literature or text as cultural and historical phenomena and to
investigate the conditions of their production and reception.
Underlying literary production is certainly the human desire to leave behind a trace of oneself
through creative expression, which will exist detached from the individual and, therefore, outlast
its creator. The earliest manifestations of this creative wish are prehistoric cave paintings, which
pass on encrypted messages through visual signs. This visual component inevitably remains
closely connected to literature throughout its various historical and social manifestations. In
some periods, however, the pictorial dimension is pushed into the back. ground and is hardly
Got only the visual writing is always pictorial but also the acoustic element, the spoken word, is
an integral part of literature, as the alphabet translates spoken words into signs. Before writing
developed as a system of signs, whether pictographs or alphabets, texts were passed on orally.
This predecessor of literary expression, called oral poetry consisted of texts stored in a bard or
minstrel’s memory from which the singers could recite upon demand. Some scholars assume that
most of the early classical and Old English epics originated in this tradition and were only later
preserved in written form. But even classical literary genres such as ancient Greek poetry were
as its name “lyrical” poetry suggests sung and accompanied by musical instruments, such as the
lyre. Also, classical Greek drama contained large song-like parts, similar to the modern opera.
Gradually. this acoustic dimension of texts lost momentum and gave way to non hybrid formats
that privilege pure text. This oral component, which runs counter to the modern way of thinking
about texts, has been in the twentieth century through the medium of radio and other sound
carriers. Audio-literature and the lyrics of songs still display the acoustic features of literary
The visual aspect of literary texts, as well as the oral dimension, has been pushed into the
background in the course of history. While the Middle Ages highly privileged the visual
component of writing in such forms as richly decorated handwritten manuscripts, the arrival of
the modern age along with the invention of the printing press-made the visual element disappear
or reduced it to a few illustrations in the text. “Pure” writing became more and more stylized as
an abstract medium devoid of traces of material or physical elements. The medieval union of
word and picture, in which both components of the text formed a single, harmonious entity,
slowly disappeared. This modern iconoclasm (ie., hostility toward pictures) not only restricts the
visual dimensions of texts but also sees writing as a medium that can function with little
connection to the acoustic element of language.
It is only in drama that the union between the spoken word and visual expression survives in a
traditional literary genre, although this feature is not always immediately noticeable. Drama,
which we -traditionally and without hesitation read as one of the major representatives of
literature, combines acoustic and visual elements more than any other literary genre. Even more
obviously than in drama, the symbiosis of word and image culminates in film. This young
medium is particularly interesting for textual studies, since film records spoken words and
pictures in a manner that is reminiscent of books, allowing multiple viewings or readings.
Methods of literary and textual criticism are, therefore, useful tools for the analysis of cinema
and acoustic media. Computer hypertexts, such as web pages, are the most common con
temporary hybrids of the textual and various other media; here, writing is linked to sounds,
pictures, or video clips within an interdependent network. A relatively recent phenomenon,
which also amalgamates the verbal and the visual, is the graphic novel. In the past few decades,
these comic-book-like narratives have received the attention of traditional literary scholars,
Although the written medium is obviously the main concern in the study of literature or texts,
this field of inquiry has opened up to other areas of media, such as the stage, painting, film,
music, or the Internet.
The permeation of modern textual studies with other media has recently resulted in controversies
over the definition of “text.” Many authors and critics have deliberately left the traditional paths
of literature, abandoning old textual forms in order to find new ways of literary expression and
analysis. On the one hand, visual and acoustic elements are being reintroduced into literature; on
the other, literature mixes with other media, genres, text types, and discourses.
Literary criticism, like biology, resorts to the concept of evolution or development and to criteria
of classification to distinguish various genres. The evolutionary approach is referred to as
“literary history,” whereas the generic approach is termed “poetics.” Both fields are closely
related to the issue at hand, as every attempt to define text or literature touches not only upon
differences between genres but also upon the historical dimensions of these literary forms of
expression. The term genre usually refers to one of the three classical literary forms of epic,
poetry, or drama. This categorization is slightly confusing since the epic, despite its verse form,
does not qualify as poetry. It is, in fact, a precursor of the modern novel de prose fiction) because
t its structural features, such as plot, character presentation, and narrative perspective. Although
this old classification is still in use, the tendency today is to abandon the term “epic” and use
“prose,” “fiction, or “prose fiction for the relatively young literary forms of the novel and the
short story.
Besides the genres that define of demarcate the general areas of traditional literature, the term
text type has gained wide currency under the influence of linguistics Texts that do not fit into the
canonical genre categories of fiction, drama, and poetry often become objects of inquiry for
modern linguistics. But literary scholars have also been looking increasingly at tests that were
previously deemed to be worthless or irrelevant for textual analysis. The term text type refers to
highly conventional written documents, such as instruction manuals, sermons, obituaries,
advertising texts, catalogues, and scientific or scholarly writing. It can, of course, also include
the three main literary genres and their subgenres,
A further key term in theoretical treatises on literary phenomena is discourse. Like text type, it is
used as a term for any kind of classifiable linguistic expression. It has become a useful
denotation for various linguistic conventions that refer to areas of content and theme; for instance,
we may speak of male or female, political, sexual, economic, philosophical, or historical
discourse. The classifications for these forms of linguistic expression are based on levels of
content, vocabulary, and syntax, as well as stylistic and rhetorical elements. Whereas the term
text type refers to written documents, discourse includes written and oral expression.
In sum, the term genre applies primarily to the three classical forms of the literary tradition, text
type is a broader term that is also applicable to “non-canonical” written texts (.e., those that
traditionally do not qualify as literature); and discourse is the broadest term, referring to a variety
of written and oral manifestations that share common thematic or structural features. The
boundaries of these terms are not fixed and vary depending on the context in which they appear.

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