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Poetry and the Making of the English Literary Past1660-1781$
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Richard Terry

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780198186236

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198186236.001.0001

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‘Literature’: The Morphology of a Concept

‘Literature’: The Morphology of a Concept

Chapter:
(p.11) 1 ‘Literature’: The Morphology of a Concept
Source:
Poetry and the Making of the English Literary Past
Author(s):

Richard Terry (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198186236.003.0002

This chapter deals with the provenance of literature as a concept, not so much with the literary past as with the past of ‘literature’. A book written about literary historiography between 1660 and 1781 nowadays stands in need of a special dispensation on which to proceed, a dispensation to speak of literature as if the concept has meaningful existence prior to the point to which several modern commentators have dated its inception. In recent times, a consensus has built up that not just does the ‘invention’ of literature occur no earlier than the mid- or late 18th century, but that the application of the term to periods or writings earlier than this constitutes an unwarrantable anachronism. This is a view with which the present chapter is concerned. Probably the single most influential rationale for the rise of literature, which also doubles up as an explanation for the emergence of the discourse of aesthetics, stems from Raymond Williams.

Keywords:   literary past, Raymond Williams, aesthetics, belles lettres, culture, poetry

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