Issue 1: What constitutes literature?

By Anson Sinn (LED Year 2, 2007-2008)

In Hong Kong, most teachers and students seem to have psychological aversions to Literature in English. Some of them associate literature to the ‘Shakespearean’ icon, while others relate it to the ‘classical’ icons of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin.

In the past, literature is confined to drama, poetry, fiction and short stories. In 21st century, however, literature no longer refers to canonical works solely (“Canon” means pieces of literary works in Augustine/ Classical Period that one was supposed to study before 1980s). Literature transcends boundary, ethnicity, time, themes…Truly if you have the habit of reading novels (any theme, period…) every day, you are ‘touching’ literature every day. Truly if you are keen to watch movies (Hollywood, Asian films, French films…), you are ‘sensing’ literature as well. In short, literature is works of arts crafted by crafts(wo)men.

A Hong Kong-made film Love is not All Around (十分愛) is a very good example to illustrate the possibility of literature. Albeit most Hongkongers regard it as a soap-film, threads of morals are indeed conveyed in forms of symbols, motifs and themes. It carries a message that love could neither endure nor be endured in the end if recurring deceit occurs. Other than love and deceit, different themes like marriage, friendship and death are also presented in the film. In that sense, it is a piece of literary works!

Which book are you currently reading? Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling? For One More Day by Mitch Albom? DaVinci Code by Dan Brown? Whichever novel you are reading, you are actually exposed to literature. For instance, the ironic treatment of black magic in Harry Potter series, the inspirational message about outlook on life in For One More Day, and the cat-and-dog manoeuvre in DaVinci Code are all elements of literature.

In short, other than nationality, ethnicity and periods, literature can be classified in terms of infinite themes – love and death, travel and discovery, political and social issues, good and evil, science and crime, gender and sexuality, Shakespeare and our contemporary…

My final words are do not be scared by literature – Literature is All Around!

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