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The name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution.
Literature may be classified according to a variety of systems, including language, national origin, historical period, genre, and subject matter.
The nature of artistic merit is less easy to define than to recognize. On the contrary, a scientific exposition might be of great literary value and a pedestrian poem of none at all.
The purest (or, at least, the most intense) literary form is the Greeks thought of history as one of the seven arts, inspired by a goddess, the muse Clio.
Yet both are classed as literature, while the speculations of other philosophers, ancient and modern, are not.
Certain scientific works endure as literature long after their scientific content has become outdated.
Definitions of the word Walter Pater referred to “the matter of imaginative or artistic literature” as a “transcript, not of mere fact, but of fact in its infinitely varied forms.” But such definitions assume that the reader already knows what literature is.
Some examples of this biographical literature were written with posterity in mind, others with no thought of their being read by anyone but the writer.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is known to every American schoolchild.
Today, however, oratory is more usually thought of as a craft than as an art.
To use the word when describing literature is itself misleading, for one may speak of “oral literature” or “the literature of preliterate peoples.” The art of literature is not reducible to the words on the page; they are there solely because of the craft of writing.
As an art, literature might be described as the organization of words to give pleasure.