Today was my first lecture. It’s as good a place to start as any. The roster listed its title as ‘What is Literature?’ I wasn’t looking forward to it much: the next one, which examines the institutional history of literary studies in the UK, is more up my street. I prefer material histories to abstract definitions of cultural phenomena. The latter always strike me as being somewhat rhetorical, defending the borders of a particular regime of truth, as a good Foucauldian might say. In fact, the tutor did a good job of presenting the discipline as a dynamic one, and helpfully, he touched upon what I imagine are often-encountered definitional concepts: fact and fiction; genre; style; and the extent to which the kind of interpretation a scholar brings to a text defines it as literary.
Despite all that, I wanted to shout out, ‘Literature is whatever you say it is!’ I found myself imagining a world-renowned English academic proclaiming how Enid Blyton was a greater literary figure than James Joyce, only to find himself sharing a padded cell with Friedrich Nietzsche a week later — chronologically unlikely, I grant you. Because there is big ol’ literature up there and liddle squirt me down here, and that’s precisely why, even in the most radical of colleges, I ain’t gonna take nobody’s word for it.