Posted by: mlawrencekey | November 30, 2008

The effect of culture on literature

cameljourneyI was sitting last night with an Arab friend of mine who is also a writer when the conversation turned to literature. He mentioned that in classical Arab literature, the simplest and most unadorned language is used for descriptions of emotion and relational connections, while extremely complicated and intricate language is reserved for descriptions of journeys from one place to another.  He even gave me a demonstration in Arabic to prove his point, and the difference between the two was like night and day. I could easily understand the first description, of the feelings of a subject towards his king, while the second, a description of a journey, was filled with complicated language that I could barely decipher at all. 

My American friend who was with me and I discussed this interesting cultural/literary point, remarking how in our literature, you find something of the opposite, or at least, a different emphasis. It seems that culture deeply affects literature. A nomadic, wandering culture might indeed invent an intricate language to describe a journey that doesn’t just take you from point A to point B, but is a way of life. Whereas an agrarian culture such as the European one might instead focus little on journeys, but instead spend most of its energy focusing on city life, including the long-term relationships and all of their intricacies that form therein. 

If I were an English post-grad student, all this would potentially form the nucleus of a thesis paper, I think. As it is, it was an interesting discussion and catalyst for thought.

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