[Opinion] What is literature? A small statement as an answer to…

Today I want to share a post from my personal facebook timeline (which I made public)
about an article from a german media site/broadcaster which made waves in the manga community.

The articles can be read here (all articles are german only):

Original article from Mister Otte @SWR
Official statement from the Leipzig bookfair
an article as an answer to the original article by Mr. Otte

I not only wrote about the article itself I also asked myself: what is literature?
Or at least I wrote about how I know the term, how I explore the term.
Maybe people disagree with me and have another opinion. But maybe people think it is worth to read my opinion about it. Share your opinion if you like. 🙂 It’s very appreciated. 🙂


I shared today a few (german) articles about an issue which is making waves right now.

To summarize it: a journalist from the SWR, a german broadcaster, wrote online an article about the cosplay scene at the Leipzig bookfair. And about the mass of “those” people attending to the bookfair.
He insists the bookfair isn’t a place for people who wear “light clothing” where parts are (or not are) covered properly, in times where it should be important to talk about (politically) heated debates and topics.

The article was in my opinion neither very well researched nor objective. It was, in short, very rude and narrow minded towards persons who love to do cosplay (short for costume play) and the scene (the manga and cosplay scene) itself.

I know Cosplay is not for everyone, some cosplays can be argued about (how they look, what the purpose is, if they are well done or appropriate for the person who wears it…) but anyway, this article making waves.

And not only about the cosplay topic. Several articles where wrote as an answer to this statement which I share and agree with. The organzier of the MCC (manga comic convention) as part of the Leipzig bookfair gave a statement as well as their colleagues of the Frankfurt bookfair. The two major bookfairs in spring and autumn in Germany where the manga scene is meeting the “classic” literature scene. Those two bookfairs are the one where you have this spectrum of mixed genre and tropes. Other conventions are more specialized (like the Gamescon, Connichi, AnimagiC, Dokomi, Comic Con etc.)

But the article did more.
It also talked about what literature is or – what the mister who wrote the article, Mr Otte – thinks literature should be.

And this is were I want to stress out what literature is. How I know the term “literature”.
As a person who studies german literature and language, now in my second study path, I dare say I have different definitions and know a lot to answer the question what literature is.
[Side note: I admit there are several definitions, still the debates are on, which parts should and shouldn’t be included but still, a lot is established and “fix”. But this leads towards a wider definition of what literature is. Maybe another time. ;)]

Next to my knowledge from my study and also as a person who loves to read manga [now nearly 20 years, with starting 1998] (and occasionally graphic novel and comics) as well as “high class” literature I can say:
literature isn’t only the “strict” and “high elaborated” way of writing. Literature is so much more.

Literature is not only written novel and other forms of prosa, lyric poetry or drama. No, comics, and therefore manga, belong side to side to the definition of what literature is.
If you (try to) exclude a visual medium like manga and comics you would need to exclude children’s books as well (if you want to be this strics), and you also would need to exclude the genre graphic novel (which is often read by older reader because of the complex stories etc). But is this really what you want? I am not sure.

So, I ask myself, if I don’t and CAN’T exclude children’s books or other visual or semi-visual books – or, let us think about it for a moment, exclude any kind of non elaborated literature like the dozens of fantasy and supernatural genre and tropes –
from the wide literature definition why on earth should we exclude comics and manga or how they are called?!

Because at the end of the day it isn’t important and shouldn’t matter WHAT kind of medium is being read. It should be worth THAT people are having a wide interest in literature. This isn’t – historical seen – not naturally. A time ago literature was “exlusive”, for a very neat circle of people, due to uneducated people, the limited way of disctibution etc.. And here lies the “problem” Mister Otte seams to have. It seems he still wants “these” times back or at least think literature shouldn’t mixed with “non earnest” ways of reading and the joy to express it.

But I say: It should be worth THAT people are willing to speak about literature, about their emotions, their experiences (while reading), even when it’s not (only) with words but – in the case of cosplayer – with wearing costumes.
Let us think about what cosplay can be, on a positive note. Or any kind of expression in a visual sense.
There are people sitting, with passion for what they do, some do it as a business, some only for one occasion, other a few times, just as they like to do it. But they express their LOVE for a medium, a ( not everytime and/or only) visual medium and be PART of it.
Other write fanfictions or create other things like poems or lyrics, or write reviews, still use the written word. So, there are the one who wrote about it, other show their love and passion with doing cosplay or drawing or even express their love in acting/performing and sometimes in singing.
So, if it goes to the Mister Otte, should a person who is so amazed by a book for example by Goethe not allowed to maybe take one of the heroes, like Faust, and show it as a cosplay because the bookfairs aren’t the right place? Because he seems to think it is only “karneval” with people dressing in inappropriate clothings?
Because the mister doesn’t seem to see and understand what the positive side of this is: written words become ALIVE. And it doesn’t matter HOW.
As I said, some write fanfictions, continue stories where books ends, people are inspired to write poems about their heroes etc. The other express it with showing something, and this can be called as cosplay.

Still, I know there are elaborated works, and that is fine, it’s the variety.
And of course as a bibliophile I love books written with a high class language, I adore them, I can’t deny I am happy to read a well written book.
But this doesn’t mean I can’t also enjoy a “simple” (illustrated) book or even a book where I am not the target reader (like reading a book for a 4yo). Because THIS is also literature. To be able to read WHAT I WANT, even if I am not the main focus, even when I am “too old” maybe. To let my fantasy work, to explore the stories, to live them. Whatever medium of literature I chose.

So, instead of “bashing” a subculture which came from the love of a visual medium inside the literature term and judge persons by their appearance on one of those events there should be better a genuine interest in talking to those people, to be willing to show interest in the “new” way of expressing love to a term which is so neatly included in our daily live.

Cosplayer and manga fans aren’t the “crazy” persons the media often makes them. It’s like everything: if you ask (politely) you (mostly) get your information, the reason behind the passion, the WHY would be (maybe) answered.
And if you don’t want to widen your horizon or don’t want to know about it, then, okay, it’s your choice, but still accept that those people have the right to be there as well as a elaborated professor who teaches the german language for example.

So, thank you for reading this wall of text.

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