The Iron Core
Here are the axioms, if you will, of the study of literary systems.
When we write literature, be it stories or essays or speeches, we do so to convey certain definite meanings to the minds of our audience. Literature is the art of crafting language to precisely focus the ideas that explode like soft bombs in your reader's thoughts. Canonical authors are canonical because of their ability to create texts capable of conjuring up the same meanings, with force, subtlety and precision, across a large swath of the reading public. Meaning belongs to a text to the extent that it acts upon intelligence in a particular way.
Writing practice is marked by the huge expressive powers that abstraction can give to the written word. Individual words can stand for complicated concepts involving multiple entities with implied past history; sentences and paragraphs give combinatorial power to the possibilities of meaning that might take shape in the reader's mind. To write literature, authors must decide how to balance the expressiveness of their language against their control over its details. This struggle between expressiveness and control lies at the heart of literary systems. A literary form can be seen as a way to trade precise control for strong expressive power.
These struggles are not specific to the practice of traditional literature. They are shared among the disciplines that use text to convey meaning, be it in a novel or a theorem, an essay or in computer code. Writers who aspire to produce literature in any field would do well to look around at the forms that their peers use to add more meaning to their texts, to recognize shared literary forms that operate under different names, and to introduce forms experimentally into fields in which they do not yet exist.