Monday, August 8, 2011

The Validity of the Written Word

I stumbled across this unfinished email conversation from a couple years ago. My good friend J (who has been a great cheerleader for me, in my years as a student, grad student, adjunct, and now back to grad student again) and I were discussing the validity of literature.

I posed a question to him regarding the value of any piece of literature: is some literature better than other? Why? How do we know? And who decides?

Obviously, there are a number of awards which are designed to congratulate authors/illustrators on jobs well done, and also these awards make people want to read the book because we automatically figure it's good because "hey- it won an award".

We debated about various genres of literature, and i remember him saying something along the lines of a Danielle Steele novel being theoretically as 'good' as any classic piece of literature, because it can  be interpreted/analyzed/criticized in the same way.

So if this is true- that all literature has validity, then WHEN does it actually become valid?

Is it when the author writes it down on a page? Did Anne Frank's thoughts become valid literature as soon as she wrote them down, never intending anyone else to read it?

Is it when someone else reads it? She never intended anyone else to read her diary, but it one of the most famous books in the world.

Is it when we read it critically? Does applying a literary theory make any text valid? If so, does that the book I wrote about unicorns and mermaids when i was 10 is just as valid as any other piece of literature?

Once again, I have no answers, only questions.

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