In a comment on this post, Amardeep Singh writes:
My main question for you so far is why you feel the "literary" value of literary texts is separate from the other values those texts contain. Much of what one finds in really good literature has to do with philosophy, history, and yes, politics.
In a separate post on his own blog, Amardeep explains further:
The reason I feel confident teaching literature for its potential social usefulness (again, broadly conceived) is that I think that an overwhelming number of writers, British, American, and non-Western, themselves write with some idea of usefulness in mind. The value of literature is almost never just "literary," even for writers; one also reads (or writes) literature to engage ideas from philosophy (inclusive of ethics and morality), history, and politics. None of these related regimes of thought are by any means required to be obviously present, and some writers might really not be interested in things like politics or history. There aren't many of them, and most who say they aren't interested are lying. Even the great, "literary literary" T.S. Eliot explicitly coupled his taste in literature ("classicist") with a politics ("royalist") and a religion ("Anglo-Catholicism").
I well understand the point Amardeep is making--literature has potential use value in multiple contexts separate from one's purely "literary" experience of poetry or fiction--but quite frankly I do indeed feel that "the 'literary' value of literary texts is separate from the other values those texts contain" because otherwise the word "literary" simply has no meaning. If the literary value of a work of literature can't be separated from the other values Amardeep, or anyone else, finds there, then in what sense is there any such thing as literary value at all? Otherwise isn't the value philosophical, historical, or political? I suppose one could say that finally "literature" itself doesn't exist except as a vehicle for philosophy or politics, but I can't say that and never will.
Similarly, there certainly are many writers who want to engage with philosophical or cultural issues, but to the extent they become preoccupied with these issues it seems to me they are no longer fiction writers or poets per se. They've become philosophers or cultural critics. This is ok by me, but I don't see why I have to consider them as literary artists when clearly their goal is not to create literary art but to "say something." Just say it.
This problem has only become more acute as the goal of academic literary study has drifted away form the study of literature "in, of, and for itself" and toward adopting the practices of all other discpilines in the pursuit of "knowledge." This was probably inevitable, and I am really only responding to my sense of its inevitabilty by suggesting that perhaps literature and the academy have finally proven to be not such a good "fit." If historians or philosophers or sociologists (or literature professors, for that matter) want to use works of literature to illuminate or illustrate non-literary issues in those disciplines I surely have no objection, but I just can't see how such practices could be called part of "literary study" unless, again, the word "literary" is simply an empty expression having something to do with "writing." I have an especially hard time seeing how adopting such practices in courses nominally devoted to "literature" adds much to either the understanding of literature or any of the other "regimes of thought" Amardeep mentions.
"Are there forms of cultural expression that contain "literary value" that are not themselves literature?" I suppose if "literary value" is reduced to something like "storytelling" or "personal expression," then perhaps other, non-literary forms could be said to have it. Surely, however, this is so reductive that almost everyone would finally agree there isn't much point to hanging on any longer to either the concept of "literary value" or the category of works now called "literature." At what point do we say that, as far as the academy is concerned, both literature and "the literary" have become so thoroughly shorn of any values in particular that it's no longer very useful to claim them as subjects at all?