Terry Eagleton on Language in Literature

Perhaps literature is definable not according to whether it is fictional or ‘imaginative’, but because it uses language in peculiar ways. On this theory, literature is a kind of writing which, in the words of the Russian critic Roman Jakobson, represents an ‘organized violence committed on ordinary speech’. Literature transforms and intensifies ordinary language, deviates systematically from everyday speech. If you approach me at a bus stop and murmur ‘Thou still unravished bride of quietness,’ then I am instantly aware that I am in the presence of the literary. I know this because the texture, rhythm and resonance of your words are in excess of their abstractable meaning – or, as the linguists have more technically put it, there is a disproportion between the signifiers and the signifieds. Your language draws attention to itself, flaunts its material being, as statements like ‘Don’t you know the drivers are on strike?’ do not.

Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (University of Minnesota Press: 2008) p. 2

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