ORGANIC: all elements of a good literary work are interdependent upon each other to create an emotional or intellectual whole*.


If you spotted the word organic and assumed that this blog was going to be about fresh carrots or whole milk, you have the wrong blog…at least for today.   Instead, I want to explore the meaning of the word organic as it is used in conversations relating to concepts, as those employed by authors.

Organic is a term which has been employed in the literary world from the earlies times of formal writing.   It has to do with the idea of consistency.  A written piece is said to be organic if it is true to the intent and talents of the writer.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Romantic author of the late 17th and early 18th century, is credited with having coined the term organic form, which describes a school of writing that stresses consistency and authenticity.  His premise concerned:

“organic form, the structure of a work that has grown naturally from the author’s subject and materials as opposed to that of a work shaped by and conforming to artificial rules. The concept was developed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge to counter the arguments of those who claimed that the works of William Shakespeare were formless.”**

That is to say, if an author continues to write a piece from (her) basic beliefs, understandings, and established principles, the piece is said to be organic.   If, however, the piece strays from those credentials and begins to employ clever niche words or methods, there is an insincerity to the work.  It is inconsistent with what we know and believe about the author’s intent in writing.

As a crude example,  John Grisham is a contemporary American author who is an attorney by training, and whose books, for the most part are about legal cases.  For the most part, his books are based in, or refer to, his life in Mississippi.   He has written a couple of youth fiction books (which I like very much) but they are similar in style and content to his adult fiction.

Grisham writes in a mature style, and is somewhat conservative in matters of language, sexuality, and crudeness in general.   He knows how to make reference to a crude act without splaying it out on the page.

If Grisham were to publish a book which was very graphic, and in which gore, brutal sexuality, or obscene matters were common, we would consider it to be inauthentic to his style.  It would not be what we would call an organic text for Grisham.   Now there are some who would say that if he established at the beginning of the text that it was going to follow those lines for a purpose,  it could be said to be organic if he was consistent with that style.   But I would contend that to be organic it must be true to the writer, and it would not seem that such a text would be true to Grisham as we know him and his work.

The term organic, as I am exploring it today, has merged into common American English in ways apart from literature.   It can be said that a musician’s interpretation of a piece of music is organic if it is true to the musician’s acknowledged style.   An event can be defined as organic if it fulfills the contract for which it was designed.   A charity event, for instance, that strays from the philanthropic ideal which was advertised, is said to be lacking in organic authenticity.

There is a connection between the term organic as I am using it today and the organic which connotes natural or authentic in matters of agriculture.   But I leave that connection for another posting.


Illustration Credit:  tumblemoose

*Definition by Dr. L.  K.  Wheeler


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