Forgive me for really obviously writing this in the middle of class, but I just want to get my thoughts out in a more coherent fashion that doesn't waste everyone's time. Somebody (goodness forgive me, but I couldn't see who it was) asked what the sort of "quality level" for literature is, and whether something's level of writing/discourse qualifies or exempts it from being literature with a capital L. Someone else brought up the idea that literature ought to be defined by a reflection of the human experience, and I'd like to bring those two together. Some stories, let's face it, are just downright awful. Not to name any names, but I can see the elephants in the room labelled "Stephanie Meyer" and "E.L. James". However, there are many, many people who find these stories to be deeply engaging–as much as those of us with higher tastes in our reading may grumble and groan, best-sellers don't come up out of nowhere. No matter how subjectively (or objectively, I say to over 200 uses of the phrase "my inner goddess" in a single novel) "bad" a story's writing or content is, there are people out there who will relate to it in some way. If even one person can connect to a story, be it a trashy romance novel at the grocery store, a Jane Austen novel, or even a television series or a comic book, then that story reflects the human experience, and it falls under the aegis of literature.
Of course, there are tiers, both of literature and Literature–some subjective, and some generally upheld. So while Literature would hold Shakespeare at the top tier and deign to even acknowledge anything written after the mid-1900s, my personal tiers of literature might have a bit of space for a cartoon that plays out an intricate Faustian allegory and an environmentalist message under the guise of girls in pretty costumes alongside both Literature and more modern novels that tread a less-traveled road to interpret the human condition.
To get into this subject fully would take more time than I have (especially with an essay due Monday!) and more words than anyone really wants to read, but I would like to hear people's thoughts about the matter! What do you think of literature versus Literature–is there always a distinction? Is there no distinction at all, or is the distinction merely contextual–say, our pleasure reading versus the kinds of text we discuss in class?