What is this thing called literature?

IB English A: Language & Literature: What is this thing called literature?

The following scheme of work asks students to critically consider what literature is or, put otherwise, what constitutes literature. Since the course of study is called Language and Literature, there is at least a suggestion that literature is something with distinctive characteristics. The following activities set in opposition, broadly expressed, two theoretical positions: (i) an ‘inherency approach’, suggesting...

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Comments 3

Syed Abbas 29 November 2016 - 12:58


Do we have any well-known articles or papers on the idea of 'timelessness' of literary works? What constitutes timelessness?

Is the idea of timelessness, whatever it is, the same thing as literature that transcends time and stays relevant over time, place?

Thanks and regards,

David McIntyre 30 November 2016 - 06:05

Hi Faheem,

The essay by Eagleton on this page, at least implicitly, takes issue with the very notion of something (in literature) being timeless.

There are several objections I can think of to the notion of timelessness. In his essay, Eagleton seems to conflate the idea of timeless with 'highly valued', normally highly valued by an elite who benefit from the evaluation. Another objection, I suspect, emerges from the problem of induction; since we haven't reached the end of time, how do we know that 'love', say, will be of enduring interest?

But - the wise wo(man) may say - isn't it in fact the case that the notion of love is enduring, and that this is highly unlikely to change? Almost certainly the case. However, love exists as an 'etic' concept; it is, apparently a human universal. Whilst this is hard to argue, it is also the case that the notion of love is always understood in localised 'emic' contexts, subject to variation of time and place.

My point is not to diminish the notion of timelessness out of hand. On the contrary, it is very useful, but it needs to be considered critically, not with accepting naivety.

That's my view. I am, however, a harmless school teacher, not an acutely minded philosopher.



Syed Abbas 30 November 2016 - 07:39

Thanks David.

The first time I looked at things from etic & emic perspectives was when doing the IBDP (1983-85) in the context of Anthropology viz ethnography.

I can now see, after reading your message, that the concepts are bigger. I also see your insistence on not looking at timelessness in a naive or superficial way.

And at another level, I suppose one does not need to consult established Oracles or gatekeepers to establish thought through principles in deciding what's timeless and what's not. I suppose going through such a process with students in itself would be rewarding. I'll be guided by your thoughts.


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