Expanding Literary Horizons Beyond the Paperback

Stack of books

When we hear the term literature or even reading, everyone has their own definition concerning what constitutes “reading” literature. I began thinking about how the definition of literature, especially according to the dictionary, deserves a counterargument. Consider the reliance on physical text in the definition. If we follow through on those restrictions, then I question how my M.A. in English Literature included a Film course where our main “texts” were films; or consider a British Literature course I took where we read 17th-century plays and Shakespeare texts which were originally live performances. Maybe one difference stems from an academic setting as opposed to casually reading.

The chances of the traditional storytelling found in the book/audio/e-book, going away are minimal. So why exactly do we primarily consider film or TV as literature when implemented in a scholarly or classroom setting? On Twitter, or other more specific apps (Letterbox), users may not necessarily be participating in a controlled setting of a film class but they show an equal amount of dedication to the craft. All kinds of posts reveal passions equivalent to those seeking a credential in literature; including but not limited to re-watching to notice further details, outlining favorite/least favorite character arcs, creating fan-fiction to retell a storyline in a canonical or non-canon (meaning lore-friendly) form. In other words, you do not have to be a humanities scholar to discover and find films and multimedia formats of the story fascinating and include them in your literature.

Another form deserving the title of “literature” for its impact on consumers is live events. While Broadway plays like Hamilton or a Shakespeare reiteration may be the first reaction to this sort of event, concerts or even spoken word poetry events bring a text to life too. Both songwriting and poetry share the lyrical form. Instead of uplifting any of these forms as the most literary depending on whose answering, or even asking for a definition, all convey a “text” through a mixture of performance elements from acting to tone. Returning back to the rudimentary definitions of literature, the form causes the audience to feel something. With that, those immune to live events being a kind of literature would either be the most apathetic person, an AI, or maybe a mix of both.

In a multimedia day and age, the definition of literature remains unstable and in a good way. Rather than categorize reading into codified, narrow terms, realizing literature can include watchable to live entertainment to anything in between removes barriers and encourages collaboration on an equal playing, or shall I say, reading field.

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