Would you say that there are postulates, or presumptions that lie on the basis of any literary piece? What could they be?
Well, within any discussion of literature -- any answer given on this SE for example -- there tend to be lots of ideas postulated. That is, simply, that they are taken as accepted truths by the writer, and usually by the readers as well. They are postulates in context -- simply the things we think we all agree on in order to be able to talk about the question we are answering.
Of course, such postulates can be challenged and sometimes are.
Here are some of the things that I postulate here on a regular basis:
- All literature is moral -- it is about a choice of values
- Literature is an experience, not a proposition
- All stories have story shape
- Story shape is driven by desire
But these are just postulates in context. If challenged, I could produce argument based on evidence to support them. They are not axiomatic statements in the strong sense of a geometric axiom, for example.
I don't believe that there are any axioms in this sense in literature. The study of literature is based on the study of aesthetics, psychology, and sociology, and I think that any statement you could make about literature specifically could be shown to be an instance of a more general statement in those fields.
The danger in literature, I think, is quite the opposite though, not a dearth of axioms but gross surplus of facile rules of thumb that are often taken as axiomatic but are, in fact, misleading at best and outright wrong at worst.
Finally, I think it is worth saying that the writing of a good story, despite all the advice on can find on structure, character development, etc. remains largely an exercise of tacit knowledge and skill. We cannot fully describe what we are doing when we write in objective terms. We learn it by osmosis and inform it with individual experience. If there are axioms, I think that they are axioms we have not yet learned to articulate, and I suspect we never will be able to articulate them.
I think the only postulate of literature, by which I mean an axiom, by which I mean something that must be self-evidently true and does not have to be proven, is that literature must have content and ideas that are given some positive value by some audience.
Or it isn't literature. A grocery list is not literature, it is just writing a memorandum.
As Mark says, we have many ideas about HOW to make content and ideas valuable to some audience, but in the end the fact that people got something out of it (entertainment, understanding or awareness) is what makes it literature instead of writing. It doesn't have to be for everybody, but it has to be valued by some as having been worth the time to read it.
Based on my experience in other fields that do have postulates, I'd say the sign of them is that they're positions which enjoy a consensus, seem too fundamental to be provable as such, and are a basis for other inferences. Based on what reader and writer alike consider, I'd suggest postulates of literature may include these:
- A writer shouldn't make you want to stop reading. (A lot of the advice you get on how not to write is based on evidence that readers dislike encountering such things.)
- Good writing persuades you of the author's opinions.
- Great literature shows a rich command of what the language can do, commensurate with its audience. (For example, although Dr Seuss couldn't use arbitrary vocabulary or sentence structure for his audience, he better understood what he could do within those constraints than did the countless children's authors who were much less successful.)
What these have in common is that, being oughts, we can't really prove them as such, but they do seem correct.
I am not, however, aware of a list of these you can look up.