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By Peter Widdowson

Literature, the newest quantity within the hugely winning New severe Idiom sequence, is instantly a compact mine of data in regards to the improvement and more moderen discrediting of the concept that of "literature," and a mirrored image at the modern nature, position and serve as of what the literary could suggest for us this day. entire in scope, it deals a concise historical past of the consitution of a canonic suggestion of "literature" from its earliest origins to the orthodoxies that happened in the course of the later nineteenth-century to the center of the 20th. It additionally lines its dismantling from the late-60s onward. eventually, the booklet attemps to get better a thought of "the literary" in terms of a chain of readings of various texts. it truly is an exceptional primer for a person who loves the written notice.

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Indeed, his most important collections of essays, aside from Culture and Anarchy, are the two series entitled Essays in Criticism. Criticism, he says, must seek ‘to know the best that is known and thought in the world’ with disinterestedness—‘the free play of the mind on all subjects’ (Arnold 1970:141–2)—and to make ‘the best ideas prevail’ (134). In this way, ‘a current of true and fresh ideas’ (141) is created, and out of ‘this stir and growth come the creative epochs of literature’ (134). It is important to note that, for Arnold, it is ‘criticism first’—‘when criticism has done its work’ (142)— which creates the conditions for true creativity.

To put it another way, ‘The Canon’ needs to be studied as the cultural formation it inescapably is. ) Furthermore, we can argue that the works which are in the Canon—rather than being there because they are, in some anterior sense, self-evidently ‘great’—have their ‘greatness’ conferred on them, or at least continually reconfirmed, precisely by being in it: they become ‘canonic texts’, and therefore remain reference-points for other literary production. However, they do so no longer as benchmarks of ‘artistic merit’, but as symptomatic instances at once of formal and ideological productions of past cultural conjunctures, and of the values descried in, and inscribed on, them in their reproduction in subsequent cultural history.

3 Forms of poetry, together with other recognisably literary 26 WHAT HAS ‘LITERATURE’ BEEN? 27 genres, in the oral traditions of—note the word—preliterate cultures disappear into the mists of time (some would argue they were the primal and primary form of languages themselves). Magical fertility spells and incantations, hymns, riddles, proverbs, myths, ballads, folktales, lyrics, epics, satires, were as organic an aspect of life as food, clothing, shelter and religion. e. in those where such modes of expression were written down—the earliest examples would include Sumerian poetry from the third millenium BC (like the Epic of Gilgamesh) and Egyptian poems and myths going back to 2,000 BC, whilst Indian, Chinese and Greek written poetry can be dated back many centuries before Christ.

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