Why do we read the classics? | The Middle East

Why do we read the classics?

Italo Calvino reveals the traits you share


Wednesday – 3 Shawwal 1443 AH – 04 May 2022 AD Issue No. [
15863]


Cover of “Al-Mu’tamad Al-Gharbi” – Cover of “Why do we read classical literature?” Cover of “How to read and why”

Lutfia Al Dulaimi

Some scholars of the history of ideas and the making of cultural policies believe that the appearance of reading classical (literary, scientific or philosophical) represents one of the side branches that contribute to the formation of a civilized mind capable of creative with the present to deal with all its complexities. These classics are often classified as canons, which are becoming increasingly popular, and their importance is educated and promoted in schools, universities and well-known publications. For the purpose of pointing out the importance of studying this classic, we may, for example, refer to the following two works by one of the magnates of classical studies, and I mean the late Harold Bloom:
The first work is entitled “How Do We Read and Why?”
– The second work is entitled “Al-Mu’tamad Al-Gharbi: The School of Ages and Its Books.”
The two books are translated into Arabic (the translator of the second book chose the word “tradition” instead of the word “al-Mu’tamad” as a counterpart to the English “Canon”).
In a small booklet of no more than three hundred pages, entitled “Why Do We Read Classical Literature?” The late novelist and author Italo Calvino (1923-1985) offers us a delightful tour through the festive world of classic classics. The book was published in 2021 by the Iraqi “Dar Al-Mada”, translated by Dalal Nasrallah. It is originally a compilation of a series of articles written by the late novelist on specific classic works on different dates of his life.
Calvino is a beloved author, and anyone who has read any of his works will never forget his signature. I do not think that whoever “Mr. Palomar ”or“ Castle of Intersecting Destinies ”or“ A Hermit in Paris ”or“ If a Traveler on a Winter’s Night ”do not read … etc would not forget these remarkable works; But in addition to his fictional works, Calvino is a high-profile theorist in the philosophy of literature, fiction writing, and highlighting the characteristics of high literary taste.
The reader will find in this book a myriad of interesting details about works of which I think little were part of his reading memory and literary repository; Most of it is what the reader will encounter for the first time. It’s not a matter of grandma or not meaningful. Most important is how an experienced writer like Calvino sets out the contours of greatness and the superhuman ability to deal with existential dilemmas, elevating them beyond all local constraints; Which made it worthy of being described as a world classic. One will read about Ovid and his cosmic experience, about many odysseyes in the Odyssey, about Tiran, about Orlando in revolt, about Girolamo Cardano, about Galileo Galilei’s Nature, and about Stendhal’s knowledge as a cloud of dust. The reader will see crowds of names he may have known and read before: Balzac, Dickens, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Conrad, Pasternak, Hemingway, Borges, Pavese … etc; But those about whom Calvino wrote and on whom I use his clever anatomical scalpel are not those whom the reader has known, and read to them before, but rather innovative characters of novelists other than these, and therein lies the uniqueness of Calvino’s book.
The first introductory chapter of the book, which made Calvino the title of the entire book, “Why Do We Read Classical Literature?” A careful reading on the part of the reader once, twice, three times and even more. This is the thesis in which Calvino reveals to us the procedural standards that mark books worthy of being classic. These criteria are not rigid scholastic comparisons as much as they are revelations of a philosophical mind that incorporates the reading of classical classics from long ago and knows the aspects of their uniqueness. Perhaps the reader himself will testify in more than one place that some of these procedural criteria may have been used by him in the past as a yardstick for evaluating the books he has read, and according to which these works are considered great books.
Calvino offers the following criteria for classical works. It is very clear that the approach here is based on the psychology of reading at the reader and the way to shape his intellectual world:
Classic books are the books that most people refer to as “I reread …” instead of “I read …”. So classic books are what people reread from time to time.
Reading a wonderful book for the first time in adulthood gives the soul a special pleasure that is different from reading it at a young age.
Classic books are a fortune for those who have read them many times and worship them. While its value is less for those who are lucky enough to read it once in passing.
Classical books have an impact that distinguishes them, whether it makes an impression in our memory that will not disappear, or they are denied between the convulsions of our memory and established in the form of a collective or individual unconsciousness.
The book will be a classic if we feel that reading it is a whole new experience.
A classic book is one in which we discover something new the more we read it.
The classic book is an inexhaustible book.
Classical books are those books in which we realize on the one hand that they are influenced by books that preceded them, and we see their impact on a culture or group of cultures (in terms of customs and language) on the other hand.
Classic books are books in which we think we have learned their content from what we have been told; But we discover after reading it that it is more original and able to come up with ideas, and it contradicts our expectations about it before we read it.
A classic book is one whose value cannot be diminished by reading other books that talk about it. It should be read on its own. Other lectures are not a substitute for that.
Classic books have a universal value that transcends the constraints of time, place, environment and cultural styles.
Classic books interest you and help you define yourself in light of your fame and your differences with it.
Classic books turn the problems of the present into a mere background soundtrack, similar to the soundtrack that all movies share. Classic books can not be used in isolation from that background, even if it is noisy and repulsive to the soul.
There’s one thing I find of exceptional importance that I did not find addressed in Calvino’s dissertation on classic books. It’s about the issue of chronological antiquity: are classical antiquities necessarily ancient? Is the passage of time a reason to increase the classical dose in classical works in the first place?
I have my own thesis on this. Yes, I think the classics become more and more classic with time; Although some contemporary works are described as classics (such as the works of Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood), these contemporary classics can be described as a thematic classic rather than a classical suggestion of the greatness of Platonic dialogues, Shakespearean plays or Tolstoy’s prophetic theses hidden in his novels. Can we imagine – for example – that Margaret Atwood or Toni Morrison could write a text like the following that Socrates speaks to his fellow Athenians before his execution:
Men of Athena … I am grateful, a friend of yours; But despite that, and as long as I have the ability to breathe the air, I will not stop working in philosophy and encourage you to think and question …. (and here he asks for them): Do not be ashamed of yourselves and your greed for possessing everything you can achieve from wealth, fame, medals of victory and medals of pottery in The time when you did not bother – even with a fleeting thought – about wisdom or truth, or contemplating the best possible condition that your souls could be in it? I do not think such a thing can happen to any contemporary writer or novelist for many social, political and intellectual reasons.
It seems to me that the essence of human greatness in classical works finds its justification in brain physiology. Our brains evolve according to the laws of evolutionary biology, and when our brains encounter new environments, they exhibit new behaviors. Socrates – for example – lived in an environment known for its technical descriptions, where a man living up to thirty years was considered a rare heroic thing. Nature was then cruel, and only a few lucky ones escaped her. Man was in direct confrontation with the great realities of sickness, hunger, and death, and he had no room for reflection outside the scope of the primitive mind (in the anthropological sense of primitiveness). Striking credibility. When the individual is in daily direct confrontation with disease, famine and death, all possible human abilities will be stimulated to counteract these facts, and he will turn to the activation of all his material forces and symbolic products to overcome these life-threatening existential burdens. head. It’s not a game of fantasy fantasies or the field of intellectual plays. But with the progress of man and his material and intellectual progress, the abilities of the natural elements, such as hunger, disease, or death, to end his life at an early date, diminished, as it does at the scene of daily life. life, human artifacts that man-made artificially and did not meet in the field of natural existence, and these technical advances led to a rapid physiological change in The structure of our human brain and the way they deal with emerging environmental images. I do not think that a contemporary writer, no matter how great his writing ability, can provide us with such brilliant images in dealing with the dilemmas of life and death as the greatest of the early classical books. Can we imagine a contemporary writer presenting us with a series of sublime human experiences, as Plato did in his great philosophical dialogues?
The conclusion, as I see it, is: Classical works will remain an inexhaustible reservoir of human wisdom, and the levels of greatness inherent in it will increase over time, and as we read these works in the light of our contemporary experience, we will discover hidden angles in it that our sensors have not reached before.


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