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Delimiting Literature, Defining Literary Value

Delimiting Literature, Defining Literary Value

(p.285) Chapter Five Delimiting Literature, Defining Literary Value
Genres of the Credit Economy
Mary Poovey
University of Chicago Press

This chapter, which describes some of the factors that informed nineteenth-century imaginative writers' efforts to define a distinctively literary form of value, is divided into three sections. The first section takes up a number of the factors that led to the specialization of advanced (professional) literary studies. The second section turns to one of the challenges created by the decision to equate literary merit with stylistic originality, and shows how the way this challenge was eventually met transformed the problematic of representation into a source of value instead of a problem, as it continued to be for credit instruments and in the accounts of credit offered by economic writers. The combination of a model of reading that attributed value to the effort involved in interpreting the connotations of language and an image of an organic whole that explained how a work of art could exist in and of itself, apart from the social world to which it only incidentally referred, enabled literary writers to revalue the deferral inherent in the problematic of representation. The final section returns to the challenge this model of value presented to novelists—and vice versa. By the last decades of the century, many novelists claimed that their works were Literature too, yet the formal similarities between prose fictions and informational writing, as well as the fact that most novels' language seemed denotative rather than connotative, made it difficult for novelists to satisfy the demands of a model that defined value in terms of organic unity, linguistic connotation, and textual autonomy.

Keywords:   literary value, imaginative writers, literary studies, representation, reading

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