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Woman reading (oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard , 1770/72)
Announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm (2008)

Literature since the 19th century, the area of all oral (through verse forms and rhythms ), or in writing fixed linguistic evidence. In this "broad" understanding of the term, with regard to the written definition given here, one speaks of " specialist literature " or, in the field of music , of "sheet music" (such as scores ) or, more generally, of "literature" in the sense of the entirety or of Share written music.

The public discussion and analysis of literature, on the other hand, has been focused since the 19th century on works that can be assigned special significance as art and that are at the same time differentiated from trivial literature and similar works without comparable “literary”, i.e. artistic quality. Literature is one of the genres of art .

The word literature was used regularly for the sciences well into the 19th century. Literature usually means published works. The entirety of the published writings in a subject area or on a specific topic or objective forms a "literature". Only limited publications that are not available in bookshops are summarized as gray literature .

Differentiation of terms

Today's conceptual differentiation, which in the broadest sense encompasses all linguistic traditions and thereby constitutes a narrow field of “literary” works of art, was only established in the course of the 19th century. The word previously stood for erudition , the sciences, the production of the res publica literaria and the early modern scientific community , and more rarely also only for writings from Greek and Latin antiquity .

The redefinition of the word took place essentially under the influence of new literary magazines and the literary stories that followed them, which between 1730 and 1830 gradually opened up to the belles lettres , the beautiful sciences, the area of ​​fashionable and elegant books on the international market and which are of central interest to poetry gave away.

It became obvious in the same process that literature

In the national philologies (such as German , Romance studies , English studies ), which essentially advanced the development of national literatures in the 19th century, almost exclusively “high” literature is discussed. Which works are discussed from which point of view has since been the subject of a debate about the importance that works are gaining in the respective society. The respective “ canon ” of a national literature is determined in the public (and vulnerable) appraisal of the “ artistic ” quality, as well as in controversial text interpretations of the fictions that give titles a deeper meaning. In the new form, literature in the 19th century took on functions in the western secular nations that had previously been held by religions and their textual bases as objects of debate and education.

In recent times, the topic of digital writing has become an area of ​​discussion in literary studies and media studies. With this type of literature in particular, it is no longer possible to judge according to criteria that had been developed for the literature of past centuries. See: digital writing .

Etymology and conceptual history

The word literature is a derivation of the Latin littera , the "letter", which came into fashion only in the early modern period . The plural litterae gained its own meanings as “written”, “documents”, “letters”, “erudition”, “science (s)” in ancient times. In French and English , this meaning was retained in lettres and letters as a synonym for "science".

The current speaking of literature developed through a detour via German and its equivalents for the French word addition belles lettres . In the course of the 17th century, the French word combination established itself for a new area of ​​elegant books on the European market. The contemporary German translation for this was “gallant sciences”, which took into account the demands of the public as well as the fashionable taste: Readers of both sexes read this product and insisted that it required a whole science of its own, not an academic pedantic one. When the word gallant came under fire in the early 18th century, the use of “beautiful sciences” caught on, which lost its viability in the late 18th century, as it was increasingly about poetry and novels, an unscientific subject. Speaking of “beautiful literature” finally made it possible to name the narrower in the broader field of terms. From the middle of the 18th century onwards people spoke of “literature” with the option of being able to focus on a particular focus. The adjective “beautiful” was used to describe the center that became literature in the narrower sense. The more clearly the center was defined, the more unnecessary the further use of the adjective became in the 20th century.

In the German book trade, the word " fiction " emerged from the word belles lettres , which today occupies a neighboring position. The book trade ultimately failed to narrow the concept of literature to the poetry of the nation as it happened in the 19th century. The international market of entertaining titles is an indispensable business area for publishers. One can delimit a smaller field of the classics of literature within fiction and sort it internationally.

The word literature has its central meaning in literary histories, literary journals, in literary criticism and literary theory. All of these areas are clearly about creating controversy over literature. With fiction, an uncontroversial, unrestricted field without a history of its own is retained in German. Significantly, there is no “history of fiction”, no “criticism of fiction” and no national “fiction”, but instead “history of literature” and “literary criticism” such as “national literature”.


The current term for literature reflects the use of words over the past two hundred years. At the same time, it is characterized by the inclusion of a number of historical controversies, which fruitfully determine the modern dispute over which works should deserve to be discussed as literature in their partial incompatibility. Since the 19th century, literary students have been required to master the tools of the trade in text analysis according to the various traditions of poetics, rhetoric, and text interpretation, which is supposed to attach deeper cultural significance to the literary text. Modern schools of literary theory took up individual questions with different emphases and diverging wishes for a canon of the most important works of the literary history to be written.

Aesthetics and artistic command of the language

The idea that literature should be an area of ​​particularly beautiful texts is inherited from ancient and early modern poetry discussions. The alternative view of artful language mastery, on the other hand, goes back to the discussion of ancient rhetoric . While the rhetoric was handled as largely uncontroversial, purpose-built art, was on the question of beauty in poetry long war, which in the 18th century mainly as a struggle between Regelpoetikern one (advocates of a beautiful under laws poetry) and advocates judgment of taste out has been. In the second half of the 18th century, the dissolution of this discussion led to a new scientific debate on aesthetics , which - so the hope - would ultimately apply in all areas of art as a constant of human perception, just like beauty in nature discovered.

At the end of the 19th century the view of aesthetics came under fundamental criticism. On the one hand, this had to do with the controversial appropriation of terms by the aestheticists , and on the other, with works of art that provocatively abandoned the focus on beauty and claimed a realism of their own in dealing with social reality. Relentless recognition of grievances should become a recognized goal. Options in dealing with the conflict consisted in expanding the aesthetic concepts and in discrediting the demand for one's own aesthetic truth.

Fictionality, social relevance

The fact that literature in the current term is characterized by fictionality and deeper meaning, a relevance for society, is essentially the legacy of the novel discussion, which was picked up by the literature review in the middle of the 18th century. Neither Aristotelian poetics nor the subsequent poetics of early modernism had declared poetry over fictionality. They had not recognized any novels as poetry.

The suggestion to define novels and possibly poetry in general in terms of fictionality is made clearer for the first time in Pierre Daniel Huet's treatise on the origin of novels (1670) - as a way of transferring the theological approach to parables to a new reading of novels whose aim is to assess the cultural meaning of a particular title.

When setting up the modern subject of discussion, literature, the question of deeper meaning was practical at the beginning of the 19th century, since it required new activities on the literary scholar, especially interpretation. In addition, it created new opportunities to evaluate texts and to turn to puzzling, strange titles that were especially debatable and to use them to explain one's own nation and history anew. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the question of the meaning of the text in culture also developed political dynamics, as demands for active engagement could be connected to it.

Literary style and subjectivity

The question of stylistic claim is essentially the hereditary basis of the discussion of the latest belles lettres . Poetics assumed that individual poets handled art differently, but that the personal itself was not to be striven for. It was necessary to strive for beauty, the artist struggled for beauty. With the discussion of the novel, the question of cultural backgrounds became acute, the question of the individual author was not the goal. The debate in fiction was different. In it the question of the titles that best satisfied current tastes was in the foreground. At the same time, it was about the question of new authors who shaped the taste with their own points of view.

The belles lettres as a whole should, according to their advocates, be distinguished by style - against the inferior popular books as well as against the pedantic scientific approach . Novels and memoirs became essential fields in the production of modern personal style. The discussion of the respective achievements of the individual perspective was reflected in today's literary discussion in the early 19th century - the question of subjective perception of reality as it emerges in literature predestined the new area that was built up in the 19th century To become a field of debate in school lessons. Since then, modern literary teaching has been about getting students to take subjective opinions on literature, to publicly perceive their subjectivity, and to grasp the subjectivity of the authors treated.

Higher structural complexity and more complex traditional behavior

In the course of the 20th century, an own, presumably neutral, scientific analysis of the complexity of literary works emerged. The structuralism of the 1960s and 1970s and, following it, the poststructuralism of the 1980s and 1990s were oriented towards them . If one looks at the studies from a historical perspective, they take up study options from all areas of debate. Texts that are more complex to analyze and that give the literature review more attack surface for the contexts to be explored receive special recognition.

Under this premise, the high-ranking text is the one that is rich in - possibly divergent - levels of meaning, deals intensively with traditions, relates complexly to other texts, is only better understood when looking at them. The analyzes are scientifically objective insofar as they actually capture the scientific analyzability as a property of texts which, thanks to their qualities, hold up in scientific analysis and which concern us sustainably as literature.

In retrospect, there was also the option of a fashion for texts geared towards the study of literature. The postmodernism went into discoveries of the trivial end increasingly confrontational or hostile to the herein defined standards of art of literature around.

It was not until the 19th century that literature began to include not only the scientific, but everything that was written down. From the century onwards, a distinction was also made between high literature, i.e. high literature, and literature of poor artistic quality, i.e. trivial literature.

History of the discussion field

Literature = learning, erudition. Title page of the Memoirs of Literature (1712)

The process in which dramas , novels and poems were made into “literature” in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (they were previously not related to a single word) must be viewed from different perspectives. Very different interests were involved in making "literature" a broad field of debate. In a catchy formula, the participants in the literary debate narrowed their discussion and thus broadened their debate: for centuries they had successfully discussed scientific writings as "literature" - before 1750 they were only marginally interested in poetry and fiction. In the second half of the 18th century they moved selected fields from the popular fringe area to the center of their reviews, with the effect that their own discussion now expanded with the more freely discussable subjects. The establishment of university-based literary studies in the 19th century cemented the process of narrowing the field of debate (to dramas, novels and poems) as well as the expansion of the discussion itself (especially to state schools and the public media).

18th century: The literary criticism turns to "beautiful literature"

The word literature no longer applies to the same subject today as it did before 1750, but it has continued to be the word of secondary exchange about literature. It can be found on the front pages of literary magazines , in the names of chairs and university seminars in literary studies , in the titles of literary stories, in word additions such as literary pope , literary critic , literary house , literary prize . The word literature is (unlike words like “hammer”, which denote no objects of debate) above all a word of dispute and the question: “What should actually be recognized as literature?” There is a literary discussion, and she starts looking according to new topics, new literature and new definitions of literature, constantly re-establishing what is currently considered to be literature. She did this in the last 300 years with such a change of interest that one cannot give a stable definition of the word literature.

The great subject of the exchange on literature was the sciences well into the 18th century. In the practice of the discussion system, the focus of literary reviewers was reduced to the latest publications, to writings - an exchange that increasingly appealed to readers outside the academic world: Scientific journals with exciting topics appeared in French in the Netherlands in the second half of the 17th century. English were added, while Germans boomed between 1700 and 1730 in business that was determined by the universities of Leipzig, Halle and Jenas. The attraction of the scientific journals was their willingness to discuss, their openness to political issues, the presence that individual literary critics developed here with their own, very personal journals (in German, for example, the Gundlingiana of Nikolaus Hieronymus Gundling ).

Between 1730 and 1770, German literary journals pioneered national poetry - in the territorially and denominationally fragmented language area , the poetry of the nation was a topic that could be dealt with nationwide and with the greatest freedom. Scholarship (the res publica literaria ) gained a growing audience with reviews of the belles lettres , the beautiful sciences , the beautiful literature (these are the umbrella terms chosen to openly address these works in scientific journals). The fashionable exception of reviews became the norm in the course of the 18th century.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the word literature had to be redefined in German. Literature was (if you kept in mind what was being discussed) definitely not the science industry, but a textual production with central fields in artistic production. In the new definition, literature became:

  • in the "broad sense" the area of ​​all linguistic and written tradition (it includes orally transmitted epics as well as printed music) (see oral tradition , written culture ),
  • in the “narrow sense” the area of ​​linguistic works of art.

According to the new definition, it was to be assumed that literature developed along national lines of tradition: if it was essentially a linguistic tradition, then the languages ​​and the politically defined linguistic areas had to set boundaries for the individual traditions - boundaries that only a cultural exchange can help. Speaking of “literatures” in the plural developed. The national philologies were responsible for the national literature. A separate science of comparative literature examines the literatures today in comparisons.

The definition of literature as "total linguistic and written tradition" allows the various sciences, continue to " bibliographies their own work as" literature "to listen (" Literature ). The definition in the “narrow sense”, on the other hand, is deliberately arbitrary and circular . It remained and remains to be debated which works are to be recognized as “artistic” achievements.

Dramas, novels and poetry became a topic of discussion in the 18th century

Before 1750, what was supposed to become literature had neither its own generic term nor greater market significance. Poetry and novels first had to be brought under a uniform discussion, while at the same time large areas of poetry and novel production had to be kept out of the literary discussion if it wanted to maintain its critical weight.

The process in which selected dramas, novels and poems became “literature” took place in a larger one: the belles lettres (English before 1750 often translated as polite literature , German as “galante Sciences "and from 1750" beautiful sciences "). This field continues today in German with fiction .

The "belles lettres" become a special field of the literary discussion

In the 17th century, the belles lettres were an entertaining fringe area among the lettres , the sciences, for the discussion world. In the course of the 18th century they proved to be a popularizable meeting point. However, they lacked the decisive prerequisites for obtaining state protection: The belles lettres were and are international and fashionable (one can speak of "national literatures", but not of "national fiction"), they comprised memoirs, travel reports, political gossip, elegant scandal publications as well as classics by ancient poets in new translations (in other words they lack any focus on a quality discussion; one reads them with taste, there are “literary critics” but no “fiction critics”). Fiction was and is above all topical, even in its classics (there is no “history of fiction”, but “history of literature”) - these are the essential differences between fiction and literature that show how fiction had to be reshaped to create literature in today's sense.

State interest - respect with which it could become a subject of instruction - won fiction through the establishment of a national debate on the high art of national poets. In the establishment of this discussion, novels, dramas and poems became the central field of belles lettres , “beautiful literature”, the core area of ​​literary production.

The critical discussion system de-scandalized fiction

English book production 1600–1800, title counting according to the English Short Title Catalog . The statistics clearly show - a peculiarity of the English market - the emergence of current political reporting with the revolution of 1641/42 . The high points of press activity before 1730 were always in politically turbulent years. The phases of the civil war with declining production, the wars against the Netherlands (1670s) and the Great Alliance (1689–1712) are emerging. In the middle of the 18th century a new growth set in with an exponential curve, behind which the rise of fiction is decisive .

Before 1750, the area of ​​the belles lettres was small but virulent. Among 1500–3000 titles of the total annual production that came onto the market around 1700 in the individual major languages ​​French, English and German, the belles lettres accounted for 200–500 titles per year; About 20–50 novels were there. The majority of the book production was in the areas of scientific literature and religious text production from prayer books up to theological specialist science, as well as, growing: on the political debate. The keyword books on offer (history) in more detail on market developments .

On the way to debatable poetry, opera is switched off

Between 1730 and 1770, literary criticism, the criticism of the sciences, deliberately got involved in the most scandalous areas of the small fiction market. Wherever there was the scandalous opera and the equally scandalous novel, something better had to be created in the national interest (so the critics demanded). German scholarship acted with the greatest influence here. The tragedy in verse became the first project of the new scientific review system, which turned to poetry. France and England would have such a tragedy for the glory of their own nation, said Johann Christoph Gottsched in his preface to the dying Cato in 1731, which founded the call for the new German poetry that ultimately became the new high German national literature. The attack was directed (even if Gottsched only clarified this in subordinate clauses, and otherwise attacked the theater of the traveling troops) against the opera, which set the tone in poetry. The opera might be music. Gottsched promised that the new tragedy, far removed from opera, would be able to hope for the attention (and thus publicity) of critical reviews if it adhered to the poetic rules that Aristotle had formulated.

The novel, on the other hand, becomes part of the poetry

The return to Aristotelian poetics remained a desideratum of the "Gottschedians". With the bourgeois tragedy , a completely different drama - one in prose that made bourgeois heroes tragedy - won the attention of literary criticism in the middle of the 18th century . The novel, which, with Samuel Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740), had given the new drama the most important guidelines, caught the interest of the literary review at the same moment. Until then, the novel was more part of dubious histories than poetry, but now the poetry definition has been opened up for the novel, just as it was closed to opera , ballet , cantata and oratorio .

The new concept of poetry gave the fictional and its debatable meaning more space than rules and conventions. This made poetry more debatable. It increased further with the fact that the discussion system called for a national competition of poets.

The discussion of “high literature” and the de-scandalization of the public

The poetic works created in the 1730s to be discussed by literary criticism did not supplant existing fiction production. The entire fiction market grew into a mass market in the second half of the 18th century. However, the new review-aimed production enabled public literary criticism to determine at will what should and should not be worthy of public attention. The conference system, with its decision-making power over the media echo, differentiated the fiction sector and de-scandalized the public:

  • "Hoch", worthy of the discussion, was the "true", the "beautiful literature" - " Höhenkammliteratur " as a later German word (the market differentiation was hardest in Germany, where the process started early, so there is also the here clearer terms).
  • The undiscussed fiction production that sold commercially was classified as “low” - “ Trivialliteratur ” the German derogatory word.

The new differentiation was a boon for the public debate. In the early eighteenth century, novels that high-ranking politicians attributed sex scandals had been reviewed in scientific journals, if their political significance so required. The information was simply traded as curieus (see, for example, the review of the Atalantis Delarivier Manleys in the German Acta Eruditorum from 1713). There was no sense of the lowliness of the debate - it was rather assumed that such information could not be disseminated in any other way than in scandalous novels. In the middle of the 18th century - the new fashion of sensibility emerged in this context - it was not possible to ban the “low” from the book market, but it could be removed from the discussion. It might occupy a scandalous journalism that would one day develop its own tabloid press , but not the upscale debates of literature.

The history of literature was created at the turn of the 19th century

On the way to the market reform it was striving for, the literary debate developed a special search for responsibility for society - and for art. She asked about the authors where the market has so far been largely unnoticed and anonymous. She dissolved pseudonyms and specifically named the authors by their real names (this was quite unusual in the 17th and 18th centuries, before 1750 people spoke of "Menantes" not of " Christian Friedrich Hunold "). The new literary scholarship discussed what position the authors won in national literature and thus established the higher goal of responsibility. In the end, she created special specialist discussions such as psychological interpretation in order to capture even what the authors had only subconsciously brought into their texts, but which were no less responsible from the literary perspective. Legal regulations on author status and copyright protection gave the same process a second side.

Stories of German literature reveal the cuts in the events briefly outlined here as soon as the works discussed are distributed over the timeline: With the 1730s, a continuous and growing production of "German poetry " begins . The discussions that had been going on since 1730 resulted in waves of works that played a role in those discussions. Before 1730, on the other hand, there was a gap of 40 years - the gap in the fiction market, which the founding fathers of today's national literary discussion refused to consider as "low" and "unworthy". With the " Middle Ages ", the " Renaissance " and the " Baroque ", literary historiography of the 18th and 19th centuries created major national epochs for the past, which gave literature as it appears today a (incomplete, subsequently produced) development.

Frenzel's data on German poetry , probably the most popular German literary history, asked about the chronology of the works it lists (y-axis = works discussed per year). The year 1730 clearly shows the emergence of poetic and fictional literature written for the literature review. Debate after debate, it is reflected in a new era. Before 1730, the past with which German literature has been endowed since the 1730s remains fragmentary.

Since the 19th Century: Literature in the Cultural Life of the Nation

The controversy over the question “What is literature?” That arose in the 19th century and which continues to preoccupy literary studies , is no proof that literary studies could not even do this: clearly define the subject of its research. Literary studies itself became the provider of this dispute. What literature should be and how it should be viewed appropriately must actually be disputed across society if literature - dramas, novels and poems - is recognized as an intellectual achievement of the nation in school lessons, in university seminars, in public cultural life. Any interest group that does not claim their own perspectives and special discussions is saying goodbye to one of the most important debates in modern society.

Following the example of literature (as the linguistically fixed national subject of discourse), at the turn of the 19th century, the international fields of fine arts and serious music were defined - fields that led to parallel market differentiations: Here too, "high" versus " low "climes: The high climes should be wherever society-wide attention is rightly demanded. The kitsch and popular music ( "light music" as opposed to "classical music") could be dismissed at the same moment as all attention unworthy productions. The literary debate needs to be closely watched by all groups in society as part of the larger debate about the culture and arts of the nation: it picks up on issues of society more than other debates and it transmits issues to neighboring discussions.

The fact that it gives rise to controversy is the secret of the success of the 19th century definition of literature: literature should be the linguistic works that are of particular concern to mankind - this is defined circularly and arbitrarily. At the same time, it is up to everyone who talks about literature to determine what literature is.

The literary canon supersedes the religious one

The literary debate gained order and fixation not with the definition of “literature”, which sparked the dispute, but with the traditions of its own exchange. What is to be regarded as literature must be suitable for a certain handling of literary works. In the 19th century, literature developed into a secular alternative to the texts of religion, which up to now have prompted the great debates of society. With its subject of debate - dramas, novels and poems - literary studies penetrated the gap that theology left with the secularization of the early 19th century. Certain genres, the "literary" ones, proved themselves better than others -

  • If literature wanted to take on the functions of religious texts, it had to be publicly staged - this was the drama ,
  • Literature had to be accessible in an intimate way - poetry in particular gained importance as an object of subjective experience,
  • Literature - secular fictions and poetry - had to be able to carry deeper meaning if it were to justify a secondary discourse; that she could do that became apparent since 1670 (since Pierre Daniel Huet, with his treatise on the origin of novels as a theologian, had pointed out that secular fictions and thus the novel and poetry could be " interpreted " just like theological parables ; Huets Proposal remained suspect until the 1770s as a questionable revaluation of secular fictions),
  • Literature had to allow for an argument about its role in society - it did so after drama, novels and poetry had long been admitted to endanger (or improve) morals,
  • In the educational system, literature had to allow itself to be treated with a hierarchy of expertise similar to that of previous religious texts , if it was not to be talked to death very quickly - the educational system can actually require every child to develop their own relationship to the literature of their nation; at the same time, enormous expertise remains necessary in order to analyze and interpret literature “professionally” , technical expertise that is distributed as exclusively at university seminars as it was in theological seminars before.

Triumphant advance of the pluralistic discussion

Model of literary communication with lines of exchange between the state (it determines what literature is in school lessons and at universities), the public in the media, publishers, authors and the public

The material that was turned into literature in the course of the 18th century had previously only been discussed in exceptional cases in literary journals (scientific review organs). Before 1750, exchanges about poetry and fiction, about dramas , operas and novels mainly took place in the theaters and in the novels themselves. In the theaters, fans argued about the best dramas and operas. Competitions were held in London in which topics were advertised and the best opera was awarded. In the novel, authors attacked each other under pseudonyms with the popular threat of exposing the rival by his real name. Here the secondary discourse of literary criticism intervened around 1750 with new offers for debate.

The literary discussion itself had at first been a purely academic matter: when literary journals appeared in the 17th century, scientists used them to discuss the work of other scientists. The audience for this controversy expanded as the literary magazines intelligently addressed subjects of public interest and as the reviewers engaged the wider audience with new reviews of the belles lettres . When the sciences discussed poets, their debate gained a whole new freedom: in-house, but before the eyes of the growing public, they discussed authors who were outside of their own debate. You could deal with them much more critically than with the colleagues who had previously been reviewed at the center.

To the extent that the sciences expanded their first subject of discussion (their own work) in favor of the new (poetry of the nation), they opened the literary debate to society. The literary discussion no longer flourished as above all internal business; In her dispute she acted vis-à-vis two external participants at the same time: the audience, who followed the literary debate and bought much-discussed titles with the willingness to continue the discussions, and vis-à-vis the authors , who now, as the authors of “ primary literature ”, distance themselves from the “ secondary discourse ” can face.

The exchange gained complexity as the nation developed its own interest in reformulated literature in the 19th century . The national literature could be done to the school subject at universities and schools. The nation state offered literary studies its own institutionalization: chairs at universities. The national philologies were established. Literary scholars were appointed to for ministries of the curriculum to create, according to which the schools is to discuss literature; they train the teachers to discuss literature down to the lower school classes.

The publishing world adjusted to the new exchange. Whenever a new novel comes out, she sends completely preconceived reviews to the feature sections of the major newspapers , magazines and television networks with references to the debates this novel will spark .

The authors changed their work. With the 1750s, completely new dramas and novels emerged: heavy weight, difficult to understand, which had to spark discussions across society. Novels and dramas have become “demanding” to a whole new extent - the new topic is the right to public recognition. In order to gain more weight on debates, it became fashionable among authors to write dramas, novels and poems in epochal currents , to found schools that had a certain style , a certain spelling (the " realistic ", the " naturalistic " etc. ), a certain art theory (that of " Surrealism ", that of " Expressionism ") championed. Authors who position themselves in such a way are, if the action succeeds, discussed as groundbreaking ones, if they jump on the wrong train too late, they are branded as " epigones " by the critics . This entire game has no counterpart before 1750. Most of the styles that we identify (such as the “ Baroque ” and “ Rococo ”) before 1750 are constructs created later, with which we give the impression that literature has always been debated, as she has found it since the 19th century.

Persecution of Literature: Book Burning 1933

The authors organized themselves in associations such as the PEN Club international. They formed groups like " Group 47 " and currents. With manifestos they began to set guidelines for the secondary discourse. In individual cases they got involved in feuds with literary popes in order to attract the literary discussion in the most direct way. Authors accept literary prizes or, like Jean-Paul Sartre the Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to him, reject them in public affront. They hold poetry readings in bookshops - that would have been unthinkable in the early 18th century. They go into "resistance" against political systems, they write exile literature out of emigration.

With all these forms of interaction, the exchange on literature gained a meaning that the exchange on religion hardly had (let alone the exchange on literature in the old sense of the word, or the exchange on poetry and novels as it existed before 1750).

That brought its own dangers. Literary studies and the freer area of literary criticism in the media that it has developed are exposed to considerable influence from society. Society calls for new debates, demands new political orientations, forces resistance or adaptation from literary criticism. In the pluralistic society there is consequently a feminist literary study like a Marxist , or (apparently less political) a structuralist and so on. A co-ordination of society, as carried out in the Third Reich , consequently first intervenes in the literature business . Institutionalized literary studies can be brought into line very quickly, chairs are filled, curricula are adjusted, and literary prizes are awarded under new guidelines. Bringing the publishing world and authorship into line is the more difficult task of literary politics , to which totalitarian states must pay great attention in order to control the debates they conduct.

Review: A new educational subject was created

Munich: the Max-Joseph-Platz, before the secularization the place of the Franciscan monastery

Why the nation developed such an interest in the pluralistic and always critical subject “literature” and the debates of national “art” and “culture”:

Europe's nations responded to the French Revolution with the introduction of nation-state education systems and compulsory schooling . Those who wanted to rise should, so the promise, which every further revolution had to make superfluous, be able to get anywhere in the nation - provided they took advantage of the educational opportunities offered to them. In practice, children from the lower classes remained financially disadvantaged despite all the equality of opportunity . What weighed more heavily for them, however, was the experiences they made early on in all the school subjects in which the new topics were hot: Those who wanted to advance in society would have to adapt their tastes . He would only have to be enthusiastic about high literature, fine arts and serious music and in the end he would no longer share topics with his closest relatives, despise their newspapers as much as their news. The question was not whether you could move up. The question was, with these prospects, did you want to rise? Not until the end of the 20th century brought a greater leveling of “cultures” within society - not through an upbringing that introduced working-class children to high culture, as is thought in left-wing political theory, but through new fashions of postmodernism in which “lower “Culture,“ trash ”, suddenly gainedcult status ”.

The loser in the struggle for social discussion and attention seems to have been religion . At this point in particular, literature is an interesting, open construction. Wherever literature is discussed, the texts of religion can always be classified as the “central texts of the entire linguistic tradition”. From the point of view of literary studies, the texts of religion do not lie “outside” but in the middle “in” the cultural life of the nation. The texts of religion relate to literature as the large area of ​​all textual (according to nationality) tradition almost as similar as the religions themselves to the states in which they operate. This is the deeper reason why the concept of literature, as it occupies the literary scholarship today, largely without encountering resistance, could be expanded worldwide.

Literatures: The internationally questionable concept

Pearl S. Buck , Nobel Prize 1938

The modern literary debate mainly follows German and French concepts of the 18th and 19th centuries. German journals such as Lessing's letters on the latest literature turned to the new subject early on. You just did so in reference to a national deficit. With the French Revolution , France gained interest in a secular text-based educational subject.

Anyone who reads through the English journalism of the 19th century, on the other hand, will find that the word "literature" was synonymous with scholarship until the end of the 19th century. There was no lack of topics for national exchange in Great Britain - politics and religion provided them for free participation in all discussions. The nation, which the church had incorporated into the state structure in the 16th century , found its own debate equivalent to that of continental secularization only late . The most important history of English literature, which appeared in the 19th century, Hippolyte Taine's History of English Literature , brought the new usage of the word into play as an impetus from outside and made it relatively late that it became clear what importance England itself could gain in the literary history to be rewritten.

The concept of national literatures was presented by Europe from the nations of the world. In the end it found worldwide acceptance. The book market was transformed in the same process: a field of book supply that was marginal in the early 18th century became central production. However, questionable perceptions threaten the concept of national literatures:

  • Wherever literatures are spoken of, it is usually not clear whether they actually developed in the traditions discussed. The European literary histories deliberately nullify contradicting traditional concepts: that of poetry, that of the novel embedded in history, that of fiction, as a market that evidently developed as European and today worldwide. One cannot speak of “national fiction” - at the same time there is no history of the larger market, which by no means developed in national lines. We hardly know anything about non-European traditional concepts.
  • Where literature is spoken of, it is usually assumed that it developed as a field of texts with deeper meaning and higher linguistic, “literary” quality. Where literature from the period before 1750 is spoken of, it is usually not addressed that the literary terms that are put forward as contemporary are not exactly that. The “baroque literary term” circulating in German studies is not the “literature” term of the 17th century, nor its “poetry” term, nor any comparable construct that can be understood in a word from the 17th century. It originated in the 19th and 20th centuries interpreting the tragedies and novels of the 17th century that we would like to consider 17th century literature. We create concepts and thought patterns from other times and cultures according to our wishes.
  • Functions that literature takes on in our societies (being treated in school lessons, being reviewed in magazines, etc.), took on other fields of production before 1750: religion, science, in order to remain in Europe. Literary stories rarely address this issue. Literature existed, but, according to the simple theory, it first had to conquer its place - this largely obscures any view of the role that literary consideration played in the formation of its subject and plays at every moment in which it sets literary history.

Trends: The "expanded concept of literature" - the "death of literature"?

From a national literary perspective, the concept of national literatures was gratefully used, as it did not affect the respective cultural identity. However, comparative literature developed early on with the concept of world literature, a transnational literary model that - beyond a national or economic conception of literature (market) - set a cosmopolitan coexistence of the world's literatures against the narrowing national perspective.

The narrow concept of literature aroused far more objections. Both the schools of text-immanent interpretation, which, like structuralism, seek meaning in the individually available text piece, as well as the schools of society- related literary interpretation from Marxism to the currents of literary sociology, which demand a look at society, appeared in the second half of the 20th century Century for a "broad" literary term that would allow literary critics to discuss political texts, advertising and everyday texts in a critical way.

Modern cultural studies interpret literary texts not only in the context of literary theory and history, but also as historical documents, as contributions to philosophical discussions or (in the form of cultural studies ) as an expression of the dominance of dominant or the suppression of marginalized (sub-) cultures. Conversely, the cultural studies open up the view to literary qualities of historiography or philosophical aspects of literary texts.

The representatives of post-structuralism expanded their text in the 1980s and 1990s - like their concept of language even more decisively. Roland Barthes had already discussed the cover covers of magazines as well as the new design of a car in their messages in the 1950s. The extended concept of language became a matter of course in film studies . Here one speaks quite easily of the “visual language” of a director , and literary scholars can also express themselves through such a language. However, if literary studies specialize in linguistic works of art, there are definitely advantages. It prevents other scientists from appearing as experts in their field of research, but ultimately can determine very freely what their subject is. In this way, it can focus on a thriving core business, literature in the narrow sense, or it can appear with an expanded concept of literature. The recurring warning call that the death of literature is imminent is also a game with the attention of society, which follows and defends the exchange of literature.

Recently there has been talk of a “performative turn” in literature under the conditions of the Internet, which also relativizes the boundaries between literature and the performing arts or between written form and orality: the appearance of a text on the Internet can be understood as a performative act analogous to a theater performance. The internet is no longer just a web of texts; the "net literature", e.g. B. writing in chat rooms , is rather essential through performative aspects, i. H. determined by actions. The category of performance, which was previously only related to the oral, can thus also be transferred to written statements: (almost) no more time has to pass between their writing, their appearance and their reading. This is similar to the speaking situation in Speaker's Corner .

Types of literature and addressees

Book fairs

Literature and the internet

Collections of literature on the Internet

  • The Gutenberg-DE project puts numerous literature on the Internet.
  • Despite the similar sounding domain, Project Gutenberg is not connected to it , which also provides literature in numerous languages.

The digital library is also interesting:

Full texts of public domain publications between 1750 and 1930:

E-texts of philosophy, religion, literature etc.

Literature created on the Internet

Not only is literature made available on the Internet, but literature is also written. Examples are digital poetry , weblogs or collaborative writing on the internet.

Digital literature follows different criteria than conventional literature; it is shaped by aspects of technology, aesthetics and communication. The Internet is suitable for communicating across temporal and spatial distances and for uniting and integrating multimedia aspects. In addition, electronic media are subject to constant metamorphosis. For example, Neal Stephenson and his team have started writing a novel ( The Mongoliad ) on the Internet in which a community of authors is taking notes interactively. In addition to the actual text, there is a separate e-publishing platform (“Subutai”) with videos, images, a wiki and a discussion forum for the novel.

Literature software

There are now numerous programs for managing literature. With them z. B. categorize your own literature collections according to specific characteristics. Some of the queries do not need to be entered manually. B. enter the author or the title and then do a search in certain databases. The results can then simply be adopted.

Literature databases

A literature database catalogs the holdings of current and older literature. Digital catalogs and online literature databases are increasingly being used here.

Literatures according to languages ​​and nations

Regions, continents

See also the article

Areas of written and linguistic transmission

Specialist literature

Fiction / beautiful literature

The literary genres

Epic :

Drama :

Lyric :

See also

Portal: Literature  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the topic of literature

(Secondary) literature

(Literature on literature)

reference books

see also: literature dictionary

Classical definitions of literature

The authors of these titles define a corpus of what they see as literary works and then try to determine what characterizes literature in a scientific and subjective analysis of these works.

  • René Wellek : Literature and its Cognates . In: Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas . Volume 3, ed. Philip P. Wiener, New York 1973, pp. 81-89.
  • René Wellek, Austin Warren: Theory of Literature. Athenaeum Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 1972, ISBN 3-8072-2005-4 .
  • Paul Hernadi, What Is Literature? London 1978, ISBN 0-253-36505-8 anthology on the term literature - contains among others by René Wellek: "What Is Literature?"
  • Helmut Arntzen: The concept of literature. History, complementary terms, intention. An introduction. Münster: Aschendorff, 1984. ISBN 3-402-03596-0 Contrasts various literary terms with one another, all of which are obtained as terms of what we consider to be literary material.
  • Wolf-Dieter Lange: Form and Consciousness. On the genesis and transformation of literary expression . In: Meyers Kleines Lexikon Literatur . Mannheim 1986. Is a typical essay on the topic - Lange puts together titles that are literature to him and recognizes that literature has always been particularly expressive (and therefore, according to his assumption, goes back to the cry of the first people).
  • Gisela Smolka-Koerdt, Peter M Spangenberg, Dagmar Tillmann-Bartylla (eds.): The origin of literature. Media, roles, communication situations 1450–1650 Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1988. ISBN 3-7705-2461-6 Collection of essays on what we believe to be literary genres at the beginning of the early modern period.
  • Ambiguity as a system. Thomas Mann's demands on the art genre of literature.

History of concepts and discourse

  • Roland Barthes: Histoire ou Literature? In: Sur Racine . Paris 1963, p. 155; first published in Annales , 3 (1960). Barthes was the first to point out that the word “literature” should only be used “anachronistically” with a view to the time of Racine - was then violently attacked by René Wellek (1978) - the word certainly existed, with Wellek hiding that the titles he cited did not deal with literature in our sense. Barthes died in 1980, Wellek's answer remained as a correct correction.
  • Jürgen Fohrmann: Project of the German literary history. Origin and failure of a national poetry historiography between humanism and the German Empire (Stuttgart, 1989), ISBN 3-476-00660-3 Is the first Germanistic work that outlined the change of subject with a view to "literary histories", and on it reflections on the structure of German studies in 19th century.
  • Kian-Harald Karimi: 'Des contes qui sont sans raison, et qui ne signifient rien' - From the 'Roman of the French philosophers' to the philosophical novel. In: Christiane Solte-Gressner, Margot Brink (Ed.): Écritures. Thoughts and spellings beyond the boundaries of literature and philosophy. Stauffenburg, Tübingen 2004, pp. 71-88. Determines the relationship between literature and philosophy, whereby modern literature, especially the novel itself, becomes a place of philosophical reflection and is no longer limited to illustrating it as in the Age of Enlightenment, but to unfold it itself.
  • Lee Morrissey: The Constitution of Literature. Literacy, Democracy, and Early English Literary Criticism (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2008). On the interaction between literary criticism and literature production as well as the connection between literature and the public in English-speaking countries.
  • Rainer Rosenberg: “A confused story. Preliminary considerations for a biography of the concept of literature ”, Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik , 77 (1990), 36–65. Notes the meanings of the terms “poetry”, “poetry”, “Belles Lettres”, “beautiful sciences”, “beautiful literature”, “literature” for different points in time - and complains that no system is discernible in them - composed without Fohrmann's thought step after literary studies adopted subjects here and gave up their old subject to discuss something new.
  • Olaf Simons: Marteaus Europa or The novel before it became literature (Amsterdam / Atlanta: Rodopi, 2001), ISBN 90-420-1226-9 Offers pp. 85–94 an overview of the history of the word literature and pp. 115– 193 a closer look at the literary debate 1690–1720; at the center deals with the change in position of the novel market between the early 18th century and today.
  • Richard Terry: The Eighteenth-Century Invention of English Literature. A Truism Revisited . In: British Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies , 19.1, 1996, pp. 47-62. As an introduction, states that it is now exciting to grasp what all that was, what is “literature” to us today, and what role it played before it was discussed as “literature”. Provides an overview of titles that examined details of the problem.
  • Winfried Wehle : Literature and Culture - To the archeology of their relationships . In: Jünke, Zaiser, Geyer (eds.): Romanistic Cultural Studies , Würzburg 2004, pp. 65–83 (PDF) .
  • Jannis Androutsopoulos: New Media - New Writing? In: Mitteilungen des Deutschen Germanistenverbandes , No. 1/2007, pp. 72–97 (PDF; 9.7 MB) .
  • Christiane Heibach: Literature on the Internet: Theory and Practice of a Cooperative Aesthetic . Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-89825-126-8 (Dissertation University of Heidelberg 2000, 396 pages, illustrated, 21 cm).

Web links

Wiktionary: Literature  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Literature  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
File category Files: Literature  - local collection of images and media files
Wikisource: Main Page  - Sources and Full Texts
Wikibooks: Literature  - learning and teaching materials
 Wikinews: Literature  - In The News

Individual evidence

  1. Whether "classics" still count as "fiction" depends on the understanding of the scope of the term. “Fiction” is often used with a meaning narrowed down to “entertainment literature”. - Irmgard Schweikle: Fiction . In: Günther and Irmgard Schweikle (eds.): Metzler Literature Lexicon. Terms and Definitions . 2nd Edition. JB Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-476-00668-9 , p. 46 .
  2. See Rainer Rosenberg: “A confused story. Preliminary considerations for a biography of the concept of literature ", Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik , 77 (1990), 36–65 and Olaf Simons: Marteaus Europa or The Roman before it became literature (Amsterdam / Atlanta: Rodopi, 2001), pp. 85– 94.
  3. Delarivier Manley's New Atalantis (1709) - reviewed 1713 . http: // Retrieved August 22, 2019.
  4. For a discussion of these statistics, see Olaf Simons, Our Knowledge has Gaps Critical Threads, April 19, 2013 .
  5. Thomas Kamphusmann: Performance of the Appearance: On the Dramatization of Writing under the Conditions of the Internet [Sic] , In: Journal for Literary Studies and Linguistics, 45 (2009), Issue 154
  6. See: