On Literature, Culture, Society, and Class Theory

Recently I was on my literature class, and my professor, possibly still working on the introductions on the subject, started teaching regarding on how the society ‘canonizes’, or recognize a certain work of writing a ‘literature’. He showed three criteria on how to verify:

  1. A literature must be printed/published
    • Obviously, to recognize something it must be accessible, and observable, either on print or published online
  2. A literature must be read by readers
    • At this point, having written and published your work, if it’s not publicized, it cannot be canonized along the glut of other literary works
  3. A literature must be critiqued
    • A critique is a detailed analysis and evaluation of something, particularly a literature. This is the crucial part of a written work. Though it was already published or read by many, without a critique, it cannot be ‘canonized’

We are aware that in this postmodern world, the populace of the entirety of the world is growing exponentially. The state of growing abundance of creative force derived from the growing population is worrisome, as the significance of every piece of work is getting, in actuality, more and more lesser, the more literature is recognized the less their prominence become.

In a mass culture, there is a naive critique of everything. On a written work with a great deal of publicity there comes a critique by someone, to be spread on the mass through mass media, and that critique becomes the idea of many. The reason is that, the outgrown society has not the time to appreciate all off the glut of written works, and ergo, has not the time to canonize every published work a piece of literature, since they may have overlooked it or had not the chance to read. The horror is that they begin to sift, heighten the standards, in an arbitrated condition, a biased judgment colored by the authority of that perspective. But the sickness of the society is relying on authoritative opinions, not necessarily forming their own as an individual, hence, conforming on what is purported.

In consequence, some works are forgotten, buried ever from oblivion, especially from those that were filtered down because of certain factors, particularly from the socio-cultural aspect. Some popular English titles, written by Western writers, i.e., Americans, English, are expected to dominate the literary canon because not of their quality derived from genuine critique, but primarily from the prejudicial socio-cultural state.

To narrow down the topic, my professor gave the example on our National Literature. My country Philippines, is a dominated culture. For there are only two types of culture, especially on the advent of globalism, i.e. the dominant and the dominated. The dominant manifests their culture, particularly on literature, to subjugate the weaker, for they are more influential.

What happens? There come a hierarchical system on the various cultures. For example, as the Filipinos are heavily influenced by foreign culture, i.e. the dominant culture, they look upon them as superior than their own. The disadvantage is the effect on the reputation of the national literature, as the national writers’ work are looked down by their own countrymen while they revel on their illusory rationale that is the superiority of the dominant culture.

Also, just as this international culture is a thing on the spirit of the Filipinos, there are also subcultures on the Philippine literature. It can be divided into two: balbal and pormal.

Balbal is the language of the mass. It is similar to the vernacular language, but this is not restricted of vulgar lingo. It is deemed as the lowest form of language, compared to the pormal, that is, the most erudite, esoteric language spoken but by academics and the like.

The problem is that, in this subculture there is still a hierarchy such as the larger, international cultures, balbal being the inferior, while the pormal the superior. On pormal discourse, it is expected, but on the field of literature, it is moot. Is a written work filled with vulgarities a work of literature? Can we canonize it along other pormal literature, with respectful, dignified content?

The writers of pormal language argue against the balbal writers. They mock them as inferior, and deeming their work as not literature. Logically, who would like to make their work, possibly so hard to craft because of heightened standards, be leveled with lowly work filled with conversational language and vulgarities? On the other hand, the balbal writers think of them as elitists, and only deem works of literature above their subjective standards.

But why is there a hierarchy? Mainly because of the social class. The society is divided into three social classes, represented by a triangle, the high, middle and low class. The pormal writers are on the highest class, as they are of the least number, compared to the balbal that is rife. Primarily the pormal writers write so intelligently for the academe, that is, on the highest social class, while the balbal write for the masses, the majority, particularly those masses who could appreciate and enjoy their mode of writing.

What must be the criteria for literature? Ask a lower class person and he shall speak for the balbal, in the same vein, for a higher class he would sneer against it. The question of them being on the literary canon is still on a great dialectic, but the fact that it is enjoyed by one, be it the only one, or of the majority, is a great evidence that it is a literary work deserving to be ‘canonized’.


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