The Problem With Classics

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Hello everyone! Today I am going to be having a little mini-discussion! I just want to mention that I am going away with my school to Luxembourg and don’t get back until Saturday afternoon. We’re going to be in conferences all day and probably doing homework at night, so I don’t know how much blogging I will be able to do, but hopefully I can have this post up and then also a review, but we’ll see. Without further ado, let us begin with the discussion!


What Is A Classic?


I think, that if we are going to be discussing classics, we should first decide what classics are in the first place. We’re talking about classic literature.

Italo Calvino (the author of the collection of essays entitled Why Read the Classics) offers fourteen definitions of a classic, which I will talk about in turn.

The classics are those books about which you usually hear people saying: ‘I’m rereading…’, never ‘I’m reading….’

I’m not sure I entirely agree with this one. Yes, people often reread their favourite classics, but people also always have to read the classic for the first time and often, as classics can be harder to read and understand than modern fiction, tend to read them for the first time as teenagers or adults.

The Classics are those books which constitute a treasured experience for those who have read and loved them; but they remain just as rich an experience for those who reserve the chance to read them for when they are in the best condition to enjoy them.

The classics are books which exercise a particular influence, both when they imprint themselves on our imagination as unforgettable, and when they hide in the layers of memory disguised as the individual’s or the collective unconscious.

A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.

A classic is a book which even when we read it for the first time gives the sense of rereading something we have read before.

Or perhaps not something we never have read before, but were always looking for?

A classic is a book which has never exhausted all it has to say to its readers

The classics are those books which come to us bearing the aura of previous interpretations, and trailing behind them the traces they have left in the culture or cultures (or just in the languages and customs) through which they have passed.

A classic is a work which constantly generates a pulviscular cloud of critical discourse around it, but which always shakes the particles off.

Classics are books which, the more we think we know them through hearsay, the more original, unexpected, and innovative we find them when we actually read them.

 

A classic is the term given to any book which comes to represent the whole universe, a book on a par with ancient talismans.

 

‘Your’ classic is a book to which you cannot remain indifferent, and which helps you define yourself in relation or even in opposition to it.

A classic is a work that comes before other classics; but those who have read other classics first immediately recognise its place in the genealogy of classic works.

 

A classic is a work which relegates the noise of the present to a background hum, which at the same time the classics cannot exist without.

 

A classic is a work which persists as a background noise even when a present that is totally incompatible with it holds sway.


 

Okay, so let me know your thoughts on any of the definitions that specifically speak to you. I only commented on a few, but I’d love to know your thoughts.


What is YOUR Definition of a classic?


I have two definitions: what I think classics have become and what I think they should be.

What I think classics have become: Books that have left a lasting impact on the world, in it’s entirety or just on the world of literature, that people feel ashamed not to have read, or feel like they must read them.

What I think classics should be: Books that have left a lasting impact on some aspect of our world, that leave a lasting impact on the reader and are an enjoyable experience for all generations to enjoy. A classic is a piece of literature which provides alternate viewpoints, or beautiful writing or any number of other valid, treasured things to the reader and to literature as an art form.


This leads me to what I want to talk about in this discussion. I feel like classics have become less about appreciating good literature or discussing timeless ideas. They have become less about sharing experiences with previous generations or studying human sociology throughout time. They have become less about enjoying a piece of literature.

They have become more about seeming cultured or being able to say you’ve read it. They’ve become more about reading it because everybody else has and less because you legitimately are interested in what the book has to say. 

And that, in my mind, is where the biggest problems lie. If we treat classics like something to do with status, or like required reading, they loose some of their timeless love. There are some classics which will interest some people and some that won’t, just like there are some modern books that will interest some people and some not. In the end, no matter how good a piece of literature is, if you don’t enjoy it… why spend what little time you have on it?

We need to start appreciating classics as books. We need to stop being judgemental and we need to enjoy classic literature again, teach the new generation (of which I am a part of) that classics aren’t boring or something to be scared of. They are something to study and to cherish and to keep alive in memory.


Well, that is all I have to say for this discussion. Let me know your thoughts on the different definitions, on my definitions and what I think is a problem! I’d love to know what you think.

Happy reading,

Keira x

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Kitty says:

    The definition of a classic at school: Something only nerds read.
    Which is actually really sad because they’re classics because they’re GOOD and EVERYONE should read them

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Keira says:

      Yep!

      Like

  2. Marilyn says:

    A classic is a book that is given respect and adoration. It is held in high esteem!
    Marilyn

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keira says:

      Sounds about right 😀

      Like

  3. I don’t personally read classics anymore. I’ve read several already and have found that many of them aren’t my kind of book.
    I’m talking specifically of books written before the 20th century. I’m not sure how old a classic is supposed to be. Who does?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keira says:

      Technically, at least 70 years old. But there isn’t anything really set.

      Like

  4. kaptonok says:

    Sounds to me as if you have given the talk already. I had to look up pulviscular it’s a beauty.
    Treasure island springs to mind when the likable blaggard Long John is given the black spot and he spots it is torn from a Bible.
    ‘What fools cut a Bible?’ he declares
    ‘What soft- headed lubber had a bible? Dick was it ?Then Dick can get to prayers.
    How I roared with laughter this time round.

    Liked by 1 person

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