For starters, please check out this thread. I really would advise you read at least the first couple of pages, since George Berryman does get around to explaining his position, as well as what prompted this.
I guess I should start with my thoughts. To me, it feels like a variation on the question of whether something is art or not. I've never had a particularly solid handle on how I define that term, except to think that something which is art ought to have a deeper meaning beyond what's on the surface, and be able to evoke different reactions in different people, rather than one stock reaction. It can speak to us in more than one way*, basically.
OK, that's all well and good, I've got my half-assed idea of what art is, whoope-de-doo. What does it have to do with literature? Well, I think the issue here is how one goes about defining literature. George Berryman is taking what I feel is a basically quantitative approach, in that "literature must consist of x, y, z, but must not have q". He(? I'm guessing) Feels that literature allows the audience to visualize everything in their head, allowing each person, in their own way, a unique experience. Comics, by having pictures that definitively show you what's happening, rob the reader of that, and that makes them "not literature".
That's a bit curious to me, because wasn't part of the issue some people had with Final Crisis, that Morrison and the 1,000 Artists weren't showing us everything, they were letting us fill-in some of the gaps. Morrison says Aquaman showed up to defend Atlantis when they needed him, we get to decide where he came from all of a sudden, and what he did, and so on? I think Mr. Berryman's argument would be that the work itself still shows us the world these events took place in, and defines how the characters appear to us, so merely leaving plot points undocumented is below the apparent critical threshold of audience freedom he feels is required.
Maybe the issue I'm having is that we aren't really defining the same thing. I think Berryman is thinking of literature strictly in the sense of "any works which are strictly words", which means my account of the Flying Castle Incident last July is literature (I'm so proud of myself). Meanwhile I'm thinking of it as LITERATURE, as in, I guess, important works, which, like my "art" definition, carry deeper meaning beyond the surface events, and can maintain that relevance beyond the era in which they were written**. So for Berryman, Crime and Punishment, and Clive Cussler's Sahara are both literature, where I'd apply the term to the former, but not the latter, because, enjoyable action-adventure romp I may find Sahara to be, I don't recall finding deeper meaning in it. It pretty much tells you how you're supposed to feel about things (frequently outraged, or amazed), and that's it***. So Berryman says "All novels are literature", I say "All novels are novels, but not all novels are literature".
I suppose what's implicit in that is me thinking of literature as a written work, where pictures aren't essential, which is Berryman's position. I don't think it's any great slight against comics as a medium if it isn't considered literature****. Still, there are a couple of things I wonder about that I'm thinking could shift things, so I'm be eager for your input. Is a complete reliance on the written word - and by default, the reader's imagination - essential to literature? Pictures have been used as a form of writing for thousands of years, so they have at least some ability to function as a method of conveying information. 'A picture is worth a thousand words', so could the pencils, inks, and coloring be considered written information the story is giving us? If so, can't comics qualify? It's all a presentation of information in a visual representation, just different forms of visuals. A focus on visual information could still (were one so inclined) exclude movies, and TV shows and the like from literature, since they also use auditory information*****. I may be going too all-inclusive here, which is strange since my definition of literature in the preceding paragraph was more restrictive than his, at least with regard to strictly written works. I'm restrictive, but desiring of greater inclusion. A contradiction? Well, that's what you're going to help me with, right?
* I developed that, for the record, in an Art of Film class I took as an undergrad, based on something in the text about how films can often be interpreted in opposite ways, and both interpretations can have merit. "The variability of theme" was how I tried to differentiate art from propaganda, which was the topic of an essay question discussing Casablanca on the first exam. Of course, I think I only got a C+ on that essay, so it's perhaps a poor thing to hang my hat on.
** That timelessness aspect is something I just considered might be part of it. I don't know whether it's accurate or not, but most things considered literature were written a while back, but our professors insist can still teach us things.
*** Though perhaps there's something we're meant to learn from a story that ends with our heroes finding the Confederate ironclad, which crossed the Atlantic and wound up beached in North Africa, containing not just a vast repository of Confederate gold, but the corpse of Abraham Lincoln, who had apparently been captured by the Confederates, and not assassinated as were believed, because Henry Seward hated Lincoln so much he wouldn't negotiate for his release. So the moral is, Henry Seward was a dick?
**** Which raises the question of why I did this post? Answer: Because I was bored, and the topic's potential for discussion interested me, even if the final conclusion - assuming there can be one - doesn't.
***** Even the old silent movies had someone in the theater plinking along on a piano, providing mood appropriate music, didn't they?