The Literary Home

In my view, there are few conversations about art more useless than “Is this piece of writing literature?” (perhaps just next to “What is art?”) The debate about whether something is literature–a word that has no set definition, even within the world of academics–is subjective and steeped in pretentiousness. Even worse, it reminds me of the conversations we’ve already had on the differences between fiction and nonfiction novels as genres, something that gets me very frustrated.

So, when presented with the question of whether Bechdel’s Fun Home can be considered literature, I am forced to offer my own subjective opinion: yes, it is literature. And that is because literature is a meaningless term that can be applied to any sort of writing, no matter the quality.

Of course, a definition like that is one that doesn’t really require any sort of explanation; its standards come from a lack of standards. Therefore, let’s look at it through the traditional views of what constitutes “literature.” We will define this as:

Written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.

What in the world disqualifies Fun Home from being literature? The pictures? I mean, there are words, too. Hell, if you counted up the word to image ratio for the book, there’d still be more words than pictures. The book still has a narrative, doesn’t it? It still has an overarching plotline, underlying themes and motifs… it’s no different from any other book we’ve read this semester. This carries over to other forms of graphic writing, such as “comic strips in The New York Times or other newspapers”.

So that leaves only one condition: “superior or lasting artistic merit.”

Who the hell are we to judge that? How can one possibly measure artistic merit, something that has even less of an accepted definition than “literature?”

This final question (“Where is the line between art and literature/creative nonfiction?”) confuses me. Since when is writing not a form of art? Why is there a line between them–is creative nonfiction not simply a gradation of art? Of course, that just brings forward the question of “what is art?” It all comes full circle.

In conclusion, it is impossible to say for sure whether or not anything is “literature,” as literature is a subjective term that gains meaning from the people using it. Personally, I feel that Fun Home can be considered literature–but at the same time, if someone else were to say that it wasn’t, there would be a multitude of ways for them to argue it within their own context of the word.

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