For my commonplace blog
Some extracts from Calvino’s essay, Why read the classics (trs McLaughlin, 1999)
1. The classics are those books about which you usually hear people saying: “I’m rereading…”, never “I’m reading…”
2. The classics are those boooks 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.
3. The classics are books whcih 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 unconsicous.
4. A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.
5. 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.
6. A classic is a book which has never exhausted all it has to say to its readers.
7. 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 customes) through which they have passed.
8. A classic is a work which constantly generates a puviscular cloud of critical discourse around it, but which always shakes the particles off.”
9. Classics are books whcih, the more we think we know them through hearsay, the more original, unexpected, and innovative we find them when we actually read them.
10. A classic is the term given to any book which comes to represent the whole universe, a book on a part with ancient talismans.
11. “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.
12. 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.
13. A classic is a work whcih relegates the noise of the present to a backgroudn hum, which at the same time the classics cannot exist without.
14. A classic is a work which persists as background noise even when a present that is totally incompatible holds sway.
Worryingly number 5 would cover a large number of really bad writers. I guess the definitions are cumulative…