Monday, November 1, 2010

Topic: Defining a Literary Classic

10-second review: Two definitions to which I add a third from Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon….

Title:”Classic African American Children’s Literature.” JC McNair. Reading Teacher (October 2010), 96-105.

Quote: From an essay published in 1910 by Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve: “A true classic…is an author who has enriched the human mind, increased its treasure, and caused it to advance a step; who has discovered some moral and not equivocal truth, or reveals some eternal passion in that heart where all seemed known and discovered; who has expressed his thought, observation, or invention, in no matter what form, only provided it be broad and great, refined and sensible, sane and beautiful in itself; who has spoken to all in his own peculiar style, a style which is found to be also that of the whole world, a style new without neologism, new and old, easily contemporary with all time.”

[Note: I think I would have stopped with “…enriched the human mind….” And would not have engaged in the elaboration, which confuses the issue. RayS.]

Violet J Harris has added the following:  “I define a book as classic in two ways, traditional or contemporary. Some criteria for both include literary and or artistic merit as determined by experts, selection by readers over several generations, and books in the vanguard of creativity that reach a small audience but challenge, advance, or reinterpret prevailing themes, characterizations, language, and so forth. The definition is expansive and does not allow for restriction or inclusion based on characteristics of the author or the author’s culture(s).” 2008.

[Note: Once again, I would have stopped with the first sentence. RayS.]

And I paraphrase from Harold Bloom’s book The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, 1994: Bloom is saying that literature does not exist to alter individuals or society; that the canon displays a complex view of humanity; that people read to enlarge their lonely existence by understanding the complexity of motivation and point of view in the world, but without didacticism and moralization.

Comment: Why is the definition of a classic an issue? Well, it has always been an issue. The definitions above answer the question in several different ways, including why read? Why write? Where can classics be found and who says they are classics? What are the effects of reading classics? I have to admit that Dr. Bloom’s thoughts on the issue make sense to me. RayS.

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