It may be a real page-turner, but is it art?

September 18, 2008

The Philosophy of Literature

Author: Peter Lamarque Edition First

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell

Pages: 344

Price: £50.00 and £19.99

ISBN 9781405121972 and 1989

Literature plays a complex role in modern society. We are encouraged from a young age to read widely and to be influenced by the books and plays we encounter. Literature has an incredible power to move the reader: to give pleasure or to provoke empathy and dismay. It is surprising, therefore, that the study of literature in aesthetics is a relatively rare focus.

The primary concern of Peter Lamarque's The Philosophy of Literature lies in establishing whether literature should be considered an "art", to be understood and assessed alongside sculpture and painting, and what such a classification means for literary critics and the reading of literature. It self-confessedly does not provide an exhaustive chronology of historical literary theories or approaches to criticism, but succeeds in its aim of examining the issues involved with classifying literature as art.

Lamarque dedicates chapters to the in-depth analysis of several key issues: the role of the author in literature, the practice and nature of literary criticism and how interpretation influences the reading of a text, the nature of literature as fiction, what forms of truth may be found in literary works (if any), and finally a discussion of what these concerns mean for the value of literature.

The book covers a number of theories, debates and concepts. The opening chapters discussing literature as art will appeal to philosophers with an interest in aesthetics, or to those seeking to explore the nature of literature more deeply and analytically: discussion of the ontology of literature will particularly interest philosophy students.

Later chapters will appeal to literature students seeking to understand the arguments surrounding the role of the author and the reader in literary criticism. Especially fascinating is the examination of the nature of fiction itself, and how an understanding of literature as imaginative works influences analysis and classification.

There is a slight tendency to repeat certain points as a result of a natural overlap. However, the extensive use of quotations from the wide range of literary and critical works under discussion makes this book both engaging and grounded.

Who is it for? Literature and philosophy students. Some sociology students may be interested in chapters on the role of the author and nature of fiction.

Presentation: Well laid out, attractive front cover. Would you recommend it? Yes. An excellent introduction to the philosophy of literature or as an additional text for aesthetics or literature modules.

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