World literature has been defined throughout North American as being the collection of many works in Europe, consisting of various masterpieces. However, many people are changing the way they define World Literature. This is because the definition of what is a “masterpiece” is changing. But there are various interpretations of what qualifies as World Literature. For example, the Goethean concept of World Literature discusses the definition and says that the first instinct is to define it as literature from all over the world. However, certain complications get in the way of making that assertion. The concept of World Literature could be too vast to be fully understood by anyone, no matter what the style of linguistics it employs. There was a de-caglottism proposal approximately one century ago that would include English, French, German, Icelandic, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Hungarian and Spanish literature to be included in the definition of World Literature. This is, however, a very Eurocentric way of defining what should be classified in world literature, and it is an insult to countries that aren’t included in the group. Horst Rudiger, who is a post Second World War intellectual, argues that the “qualitative canonical concept of ‘world literature’ is an aesthetically necessary correlate to the quantitative, geographical concept of ‘literatures of the world,’” (Birus, 2000). But others have noted that world literature is above all literatures as a form of a super literature, that only consists of a collection of masterpieces that are far superior to the everyday literature. This, though, isn’t the way that Goethe would consider World Literature, which he calls a reaction to being romantic literary criticisms that break through the normal limits of the occidental literature in a way that provides a revalue to popular poetry and to the literature that came out of the Middle Ages and from the Orient. In the most contemporary meaning, the quantitative aspect of world literature, essentially, is consideration of all literature and it is paralleled by the strong texts that are a part of the world library.
Goethe has said that the collection of world literature will be defined eventually, as people begin to interact more and more. He made this statement in the 1800’s. He saw that there was an increasing trend of people interacting more and more with each other and this caused them to exchange literature and to become more knowledgeable about the great works throughout history. It wasn’t enough for the people on one nation to come together to understand what the best kind of world literature is. Instead, the life experiences of those around the world needed to help bring out the best literature, (Birus, 2000).
While there are varying definitions of what World Literature actually is, there seems to be a consensus among course descriptions at many universities and colleges that they include Renaissance literature and that of the Middle Ages. In discussing the renaissance literature, there is the implication of the stories having to do with rebirth. At least this is the definition of renaissance and it represents the general sentiment of the time period in which the literature was produced. This period marked a time of enormous interest in the study of antiquity. But the renaissance literature didn’t just represent a rebirth, it was also about new discoveries. These included literary topics about geography and intellectually. There are two major reformations in the literary side of the renaissance. The first is the Protestants’ rejection of the church’s authority. There was much debate about how to translate the Bible. The Catholic church wanted to only have the Bible written in Latin. But the Protestants said it’s important that the Bible be understood in its original languages, which are Hebrew and Greek, in order to translate it into other languages. The second significant impact of the renaissance on literature was a more subtle way, and this didn’t affect the appearance of literature until later. There was a real emphasis about inner feelings in many of the Romantic Movement that occurred during this period. This was influenced largely from the religious momentum related to the Protestant Reformation.
In the renaissance literature, there are many concepts that are linked to religion, but less so than some of the works from the Middle Ages, for example. There are some cases where there are modern references, such as in the romantic pieces that are fairly common in the renaissance literature. But it wasn’t just the romance that was a major part of this time period, it was also the dramas, which experienced a great revival. This time period is perhaps most noted in the works of William Shakespeare, (Renaissance, n.d.).
Much of the Middle Ages literature represented a rebirth, much like that of the renaissance. The books were copied by hand and distributed and their illustrations were often completed by monks. Because paper was so rare, books were exceedingly difficult to get one’s hands on. Most literature was written on calf’s skin or lamb’s skin. Those who were learning to write used wooden tablets that were covered in black or green wax. Many of the books were bound with wooden boards or they were bound with simple leather that was used only for literature of the more expensive variety. Those who travelled stopped to learn about the various writing styles of the Middle Ages. While the renaissance was the time when romance was often written about, it also appeared in the Middle Ages. There was also literature about the various courtyard battles. But it wasn’t just through literature that marked the writing of this time, it was also through universities that challenged the ways in which society was governed. Writing was being used as a commentary, while also proving useful in poetic fiction.
During the Middle Ages, language experienced significant developments. This is the time when capital and lowercase letters were developed, and rules were attached to each. Books were treated like treasure and it was extremely rare to openly show a book in a library. Books were instead kept safely secured behind lock and key. If anyone would lend a person a book, they were considered to be a true friend. Some other people would see books as being extremely valuable and likely to be pawned off, (Medieval, 2001).
World Literature doesn’t have a single definition, because various people will have their own ideas about what is worthy of being included in such a prestigious category. However, there are several key points to consider when forming a conclusion about the definition of world literature. These include the titles have to be significant to the history of writing, which could include representations of the development of certain writing styles. When including important literature throughout the centuries and from various parts of the world, it is important to have in the World Literature works that were developed during the Renaissance and in the Middle Ages. Without these two key parts of the history in literature, any collection of World Literature would be incomplete. But the made-it list of works becomes more complicated when breaking down the individual authors and works to include in the class of literature. The dilemma becomes even more difficult when deciding what countries to include in the collection. With such an assortment of masterpieces out there, the World Literature designation is not a small collection, but it features an array of the most important works in history.
Birus, H. (2000, December). The Goethean Concept of World Literature and Comparative
Literature. Purdue University Press.
“Medieval Literature.” (2001, June 26). Medieval Life.net.
“Renaissance.” (n.d.). The City University of New York.