The Concept of literature

The word literature derives from the Latin word littera, 'a letter of the alphabet.' The Latin word for literature was simply the plural, litterae, and in this basic sense literature embraces everything written with the letters of the alphabet.

The term is often used to refer to writing that is creative in some way -- the written province, if you will, of the larger country of Art. The passages presented here suggest how difficult it is to make this meaning precise. For our purposes, try to keep in the back of your mind these questions: What are the uses of literature for society? What are the uses of literature for the self?