Friday, 20 March 2015

What is Literature? Thoughts from the International Literature Showcase

This week I'm at the International Literature Showcase in Norwich. It is a new platform connecting UK and international literature professionals, produced by the brilliant teams at British Council Literature and Writers' Centre Norwich.
The programme is fabulously spacious and diverse, and the other delegates thought-provoking, impressive, and inspiring.
Two things keep occurring to me. One is the power of a good question (thank you Sara Robinson) and I will blog about these tomorrow. The other is about what literature is, how we pin down something that is so vast and so many different people produce, and whether we need a language that explains this.
Words starting bashing at my brain, itching in my fingertips, and shouting to be released. So here they are, some thoughts on what literature is.

What Is Literature
Literature is vast. It is multifaceted and multifarious and multiplicitous. It is specific and it can be held in the hands and it can disappear in the echo of a voice. 
Literature is power grasped and directed and stolen from caverns of voicelessness or invisibility. It is voice shouted into the void in the hope of being heard or listened to.
It is being listened to. And it is listening hard: opening the ear and the eye and the heart to that which has never been part of you, and that which has lain within you all along.
It is itself. And this is enough. And it is incomparably bigger.
Literature is language. It is pre-concscious utterance. And it is the language of the body and of the deaf. And of the blind. And it is the language of silence, the between words. It is fast words schlocked out and insistent, that cannot be denied. And it is the non-verbal languages of ones and zeroes , of code and the words that command and demand action.
Literature is ink splattered on parchment, typeface stamped into paper, liquid congealing and separating on a screen.
Literature is received and it is created and it is eternal and it is in everything that has gone before, and it holds within it everything that has been before. And it is new as the cracking of winter.
Literature is writers and it is producers and it is readers. And it is listeners, and it is viewers, and it is connection. It is conversation.
Literature is important and powerful and instrumental. It is unreliable and unpredictable and shifting and shifted.
After all, literature, like nature, has never loved us back.
Literature, like digital, like society and like the atmosphere and outer space, and the void, literature is an environment. What we make of it is up to us.
Literature is the world. And it is life and it is taxidermy. And it is retreat and it is escape and it is splashing in puddles and it is diving in headfirst.
Literature is easy as joy, as difficult as life, as full-frontal as death and as fearful rushed into as sex.
Literature is you and me and them and us and someone alone in a forgotten house,
Literature is...and it isn't. 

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