Sunday Book-Thought 87

There is some reason to believe that literature is a social institution and literary works institutional objects defined by the function they serve in the institution, seeing that in our culture there has always been a literary practice along the lines of the suggested model, involving notions of artistic unity, artistic function, artistic value, and so on. Given this background, it may be maintained that an inquiry into the ‘nature’ of the literary work should be an inquiry into the concepts and conventions shared by the community of readers, rather than an inquiry directed at the object itself. Institutional conventions and concepts will determine the answer to such questions as what is artistic significance, what is artistic unity, what is artistic value, what is the cognitive status of literary discourse, what is a correct interpretation of a work, and so on. All in all such conventions would determine not only what features of a text are literary artistic features, but they would also create the possibility of the identification and description of such features. They would be rules constitutive of that game, and apart from the institution or practice of literature there would be no literary works, no artistic features, no artistic unity or design, no structural elements, or any other such features we recognize as having to do with the aesthetic nature of the literary work.
– Stein Haugom Olsen, The End of Literary Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 81.

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