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What is Literature

What is literature? — It Is the personal preference of a writer (or a reader) for the works of certain writers: his idea of what should be described for a larger circle of readers as worthwhile reading. Ford Madox Ford says so in almost as many words:

“Let us then sum up literature as that which men [and women, presumably] read, and continue to read for pleasure or to obtain that imaginative culture which is necessary for civilisations. Its general characteristic is that it is the product of a poetic, an imaginative, or even merely a quaintly observant, mind. Since the days of Confucius, or the earliest Egyptian writers a thousand years before his time, there have been written in stone, on papyrus, wax, vellum, or merely paper, an immense body of matter — innumerable thousands of tons of it. This matter is divisible into that which is readable and that which is unreadable except by specialists in one or another department of human knowledge. The immediate test for one’s self as to what is literature and what is not literature — the ‘biblia a-biblia,’ as the Greeks used to call this last — is simply whether one does or does not find a book readable. But if a book has found readers for 2000 or 500, or merely 80 or 2O years, you would be rash, even though you could not read it yourself, to declare that it was not literature — not, that is to say, a work of art. . . . But for the judging of contemporary literature the only test is one’s personal taste. If you much like a new book, you must call it literature, even though you find no other soul to agree with you, and if you dislike a book, you must declare that it is not literature, though a million voices should shout to you that you are wrong. The ultimate decision will be made by Time.”

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