Thursday 6 May 2010

Why Read the Classics

I have been dipping into Calvino’s Perché leggere i classici, which is little more than a clever marketing operation, as it consists of over thirty unrelated articles on European classics and introductions to various literary works, especially in translation.

The title piece of the collection is easily the most interesting, and it lists fourteen attempts at defining a “classic”. Since this is one of the questions I am most frequently asked as a publisher of classics, I found this article particularly engaging.

However, I agree with only a few of Calvino’s definitions. Who would subscribe, for example, to his claim that “the first reading of a classic is in fact a rereading”? It’s also a bit disappointing that he never gets round to answer the question in the title. The nearest he gets to this is towards the end of the article, when he says that “reading the classics is better than not reading the classics”. I have a feeling that such a generalization is bound to raise a few eyebrows today, especially in this country. It did raise mine – and I think of myself as a bit of classicist...


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