Gateway to ideas; Wanted: Redefinition of classics
Gateway to ideas. Gateway to ideas. A new series of conversations in which I discussed in relation to reading today's program wanted a redefinition of the classics is moderated by Ross Backlund managing editor of Horizon magazine. For our discussion today our guests are Steven Marcus associate professor of English at Columbia University and editor of the Partisan Review and only one third of the book dickens from Pickwick to Dombey. Our guest is Elizabeth Hardwick novelist short story writer and critic. I miss her because one of the bones of the New York Review of Books and remains by the Editor her own most recent book is a work of criticism called If You Have My Own. I like that title as hardwood because he was the telescope the
titles of two other minor classical liberal. Well I suppose it was. So I didn't actually I wasn't quite conscious of combining Virginia Woolf's A mile and. A fourth room with a view but I think. That actually that's what I did and you know I did not. Well it works but at the same time I slipped into something which is very easy to do I said a minor classic which means that this word classical may be one and it has every kind of ramification. Do we need a redefinition of it. The markets I don't think we rated me very little of it really I think that the definition of it originally is difficult enough and useful I thought if I got to know what the definition really answers to our sense of what it is rather we feel about ourselves and apparently so many feel that we definitely check this I'm in the two editions of Webster's New International Dictionary and in Webster
to the one we all grew up with class. No the very first definition is the work of the higher end of acknowledged excellence. Turn to Webster's ready and the first definition the classic only is the work of literature of ancient Greece and Rome as one they one be the body of such writings that would be in the plural. One's the arcade the student the literature of Greece and Rome and so only go down to the second definition to begin a thing like our own work that is classic and it was an example of this they give a sentence his manual of botany has become a classic among scientists unquote. Or to be the work especially of miniature art or music meriting the highest respect. That's an old definition of been pushed way down the line of what is supposed to happen. Rock I ever really thought of the general trend of increasing relative as I left the show and the dictionary has been accused of somebody just as the first definition of love for additional work of the highest class.
It probably probably are the kind of pick that unless that's really this would be demoted. Last Hope Webster Robin and a classic built own car well what's your definition of the word rally as Barrick corrupt. But still it's a values the word and in its corrupt uses it it's a good word even like classic clothes and so on the word wouldn't be so popular if we didn't know what it meant. It means well when you say of course classic clothes that means things some sort of pattern that as is used over and over again but that doesn't have anything to do with books but it is about a difficult work a very difficult word when you think of the first of all it means as opposed to most people the ancient classics of Greece and Rome. Well that's a specific meaning that Webster who was brought to the surface without you I am
studying the classics that's what you would me and I think that be the sort of generally accepted meaning that you were studying Greek and Roman wouldn't it. Yeah I think so but that doesn't mean that it's the class the classics but I know logic I class like us you know in England for example the great horse races are called the classics. Yes well you know I hear everything just football right. Yes there's a there's a book by an English philosopher Michael Upshaw. Mike is one of the two or three books he's written it's called A Guide to Life but it's about horse racing. Yes well I don't think that I absolute excellence is always a characteristic of perhaps some sort of you know as I boast that it's the highest star and somehow tell you something you can't learn another place and also survive all that is there and we're going to have it.
Excuse me I go back with her just to think of what you say your absolute excellence is probably not a requirement. The classic need not be absolutely excellent or that that is not enough to make it a class. Well you could say that manic classics that they're well they're all wrong. I just record of the era as I had not such as the books of the past you know that I may have a melon girl as a medical classics and so on stuff but they are excellent in their survey of past presidents past by whichever classic cookbook. Well yeah if you have the classy cuisine as they have in France we could have a class of who would have to be then it would have to be not because it's a cookbook or because it's written by a certain person with a lot and I don't have a complete But I was being passed about. Well I think we shouldn't spend too much time on the war because it is a word that has vast numbers Well I think what I mean live as a metaphor Yeah because there are clearly many kinds of classics now in the book
of France plays the classic immortal Mr. Round not so it depends on I want to answer using the word and I would say in the in the most general sense a classic is of course immortal and one particular way that committed on the right the most interesting thing about interesting problem really about a classic is how it survives as what one finds of these works which we call classic have a mysterious power. I'm renewing themselves from age to age and from generation to generation. And as they renew themselves what I think is most interesting about them is that they change they become literally different works from what they were originally. Take something very obvious let's say like eight of us Rex or Hamlet. Those works have been classic for a long long time. But the Oedipus Rex to that. That exists today or the hamlet that exists today is as much a living ply classic as it was when they were originally British but is it not recognizably the
stone play in some sense to not at least I mean the fabric has changed other words have not changed the way we look at it but I want apprehension of it and therefore it in so far as it exists. I have also stated this seems to me the most peculiar quality one of the most peculiar qualities of a classic on how it survived is that it keeps changing its identity. Apparently in some way or it has within it resorts which transform it as people read it or people reading it transform it in some way. Such as when I was let's say that if you read the history of the criticism of the Shakespeare's tragedies especially of Hamlet everybody defines itself by Rand typing Shakespeare's great light what is it this is one of the things I suppose that a classic can do then only can do but would you say Mr. Moggs that if it couldn't do that and had little chance of becoming a class of nuts none of the dead classics in the great sentence yes it would be a dead classic then or become something to be read I suppose in a more specialized way in a
different different context is a very good example. I know what I'm speaking about this before with me it was hard work. The performance of King Lear that is being played by Scofield with Paul Scofield production is a very remarkable thing and it's remarkable by virtue of the fact that somebody made a connection between Samuel Beckett and King Lear and stage the great middle scenes around the heat and the mad scenes in which style of waiting for God our end game or something like that and when I saw right side I would things that I had always felt suddenly became you know in a way once I've lost that you're sitting naked on naked stage and crawling around there are people hanging around like characters and back at it and suddenly I once felt about things and King we had became much clearer and much stronger. And King Lear for me at any rate I think but it was renewed in its identity as a as a classic by virtue of the fact that somebody had discovered a modernity and it was the villains that used Shakespeare
to boast of this kind of argument because I suppose his plays the best from anywhere the supreme example of the kind of thing that every generation it seems was on. Well looks like a lesser work as there are other things like Donne's poetry readings and whatever variants one that was not considered one of the great classical moments of English poetry and they are now these classical things they do change some things are lost for a while and are evolved an immense interest that's what makes the trip to us so interesting I'm going to make this clear that was hardly good I was done with his own time for theology or of sermons or when he was a great poet then but the it 900 sex thread lost interest in him I think that's right as Mr Marcus yesterday came centuries wrote an 18th century of his particular kind of obscurity which was back about as T.S. Eliot I suppose was more important than out of one else and bringing him to back to modern poetry. And so these
things are always changing and the fact about. Something is considered a classic and then drops away from the public interest doesn't mean that a remain forever these they change all the time one great critic one right writer can revive a whole tradition. Now one of the classic if we think of that is not necessarily I don't know I mean I go back and yes yes oh it was raining so it was only recognize cause you think it was probably DOES IT WOULD you can demonstrate. What used to be a classic. Yes but that is probably going to. Well let's let's take something like. All the Fairy Queen friends was lots of lots of people think it's dead because it's not read by the public anymore. Is that a done classical in that the more in a sense in the sense that a large public is going to read some data Faerie Queene I think it's as dead as a doornail. But in the sense that poets and students and
people who are interested in poetry in this part they must read the fairy queen and must come I must feel a life in that it's more than just the Pentagon tickle device I want or yeah it's what I would say a perfect example maybe even a better example of a very clean as what happened to the novels of Scott Yeah is there a line. They're not they're not permanent. My dad I don't think but I haven't read them for a long time. It would it would take something very large to bring them back to life style. I think whatever whatever whatever life exists of them is apparently not accessible right now to us why we look at literature or demands that we make of our of a classic just. Those those I did not resonate with what's going on in Scott and yet when you consider that all through the 19th century he was thought to be as great as Shakespeare almost. That's not just because he was the great popular writer of the period and we have great popular writers Now now and conceive
of as you know the classics of the future. No no no Ed but it rhymes. This is one of the interesting things that was one of those immense missed estimations that nobody ever had a set right by the way nobody had ever had to stand up a critic I have to stand up and say Walter Scott is no good at all it's just that he did the laurels just subsided not naturally. This is this is something very different I think than the kind of thing that goes on to that when I mean this definition of clowns that was sort of working toward or that we will soon we understand you know. It was the element of popularity of Central does that mean it doesn't have to be run by others and the experts. Well not if it has to be read by the next but I won't be the end of classics now because you don't have a vast public that believe that I'm saying except can tap read things and I sense maybe there are classics but we all know that there are no I mean I don't think the number of people reading the book at them are they sort of crucial interest that even the few can bring to light the numbers.
I tried from a very hard not important aside from a very few things I say like Shakespeare or like the Kims or something which people do read on their own. My betters are very very few in number. The classics that we are are not kept alive by general readers but they kept alive by institutions of learning and people who go through them and then continue reading and are interested in books. There are as I say a few writers such as Shakespeare and Dickens that you find all sorts of ordinary people still reading. There are people who don't read other things sometimes but have some interest in that. But generally I think that's hard work and it's quite a fact about about what how the classics I can get them on the kept alive by the attention paid to them by crucial people who care. College isn't the whole sort of structure that has to develop it south to start teaching the young
and so on and then by riders themselves who keep these things and why it was the writers who do most of it I guess the writers who do it well enough not the critics do it in their own way or that there are I suppose caretakers but it's the writers who really can make things no camera know what precisely by the new attention that they give to a work of art from a previous era such as TS Eliot with done with them. When I was a notion in the 19th century or the idea of the ideal promoted in the bridge the other was that what the really cultivated person sat around reading the classics that he was supposed to draw enjoyment from them and profit from them. I don't think anyone does that now we go back to what we call classical The Shakespeare we go back to later classics like Tolstoy once in a while for pleasure but not really very often. It is this possibly because the great bulk of material that comes out of snow so much greater than it was there is much more to read. And having once done
one's duty by the so-called classics we don't do it again. That's partly but I think it's also partly the nature of the nature of education as change what you're referring to as a model of English gentleman who went to school learned great Latin and spent his time spent his leisure time reading these classic Matthew Arnold for example for the for all his life after he left school read great for half an eye every day reading his great testament half and I would try to keep this great going this is a very different idea on the classic end to a work reading is for then we have to then say we don't. I suppose most most of us don't think that reading a large part of our age should take place in a foreign language. Most of us aren't able to remember the first thing the second is that I think it's interesting that the course of the reading doesn't take place in a foreign language a lot of us read or think much about what was right we read for instruction and for use as much as we read for pleasure
that is there is the impulse of getting something out of information or information of a peculiar kind because we read close x for this kind of information because I think you know that. The classics all the great body of people who can and have read Greek and Latin poetry and drama and all the English classics and thought I do have the feeling and classics and all languages that these classics are immensely enjoyable and that there's that wouldn't be true of the work on Madison. But what of nearly everything else in our philosophy. Not at all if they are to do in a way they thing I think some people feel who've never experienced either desire the kind of education that gave them some training in the classics they have the feeling that these things are done now whereas they are the greatest sort of continuing Joe I. From
far reader they really I am sure when Matthew Arnold read his Latin and brachytherapy and Joel Bradley way way back might enjoy reading TIME magazine every week so it was not a duty imposed in a puritanical manner but we don't enjoy it when I go out same way I know it's just the people who still do it. Yeah I doubt they wouldn't do it if you kept up. Except perhaps teachers but there are a few specialist who don't but they reading for instance of what we call and base the sort of great modern classics of the Russian novel and even Joe ice and Proust and all that. Well of course we read those for pleasure but it's not I that's a different kind of pleasure as an oath as an account of class as I have I think of when Matthew Arnold rather great There was a kind of simple pleasure that he got in the reading of it that we have. I'm not saying that this is a great loss necessarily liking a descriptive difference that we have
foregone. When you're set on a ray dusty Esky approach to address I'm not saying there isn't great pleasure and that's it OK mind reading all of the Iliad and studying I was very much like rereading the possessed I think. But I think not because you know if you remember what the kind of thing the way if you were on old would describe the Greeks these were the pre Nietzschean races the smiling breaks the sun the grapes the healthy grapes they were you know that was also how much point he simply simply reading the Greek itself we got there and saw Of course exercise almost Yes subtle and yes I don't mean as a Manson diamond like anything on the nose and but point came up here when Mrs. Hardwick said the great modern classics like I something realize that up until that point every class he would mention and have been written before that middle of the 19th century which is the concerns about the idea of age will know can we have a modern. We do have modern classics we all think they're modern classics but what how are they different from the old classics. What makes a modern classical
composer one except with enough time for one thing. Part of the how do you see is about the thing that's going to be a class what you get for instance it's possible I don't think it would quite happen this way but suppose someone like camming Lai who is an immense figure in America not he might take a place like Mrs. A for a banging are the novels of Disraeli they are some of those perhaps not the best examples but we don't really know about someone whose career is only in the last 30 or 40 years however the Russian novel has lasted long enough and it seems almost universal. The approval and the amount of interest and amount of sustenance and Joe I that's been derived from it would indicate that all those books of those four or five writers are classic. So one doesn't feel that there's a single dissenting voice like that not about the right you know I don't run field even without hearing it that there are that they could be and often will be dissenting voices about
something like Hemingway and the rap scene we're talking about there were just something words about the Russians of the time with them. Yeah I was an amount of just playing one against another Prince Henry James preferred to get it through to Tolstoy and not some people didn't like Boston and I will no doubt not but I didn't like it not in the sense that I said it was that they didn't like it in the sense that they were overpowered by it and didn't like the quality of what they were making a different kind of judgment nobody would say it wasn't it wasn't a great thing. No they got a bit of that those books a supreme complement of the judging on the basis of their ideas rather than the stuff. And when those are. As a matter of fact that this is a totally different subject but it does suggest something about a classic book it seems to me when you go back to any Russian novel if you go back to one of the earlier the old Loman tough you don't have to stay with the biggest names of all they all have a quality which you recognise immediately as something classic but as I said I think among one thing the Supreme the actual innocence of a Russian novel. Anything that happens there seems to be perfectly natural but
how eccentric in the American setting women are going to go you know how it's all nature I mean I think an acceptance of everything in life which. Well that's why I feel that the Russian novel is really the peak of the novel and all Caterina's because it added to this sort of plot and all the teeming life of Dickens in the English novel this tremendous sense of naturalness. It included and yet they were they don't have unwieldy plots it's all just nature working itself out in the cement. Why does the F-keys nature you know them specify when all our spirits who are and demons when I think we don't need to be Russian novels as we are there's no argument of oh my God says someone like Thomas my son you know not love. Yeah I'm absolutely crazy about him but many people do not like him including young Germans and so on. Now whether he will be widely read 20 years from now 30 years and I don't know how well I think I might my opinion is that it
will be what I think is what is most interesting about bringing up my son is that he was a writer who set out to be a clash I guess. I had very much the I think in the beginning I wrote a classic Ra's and he almost virtually had a formula but you could feel it you know and you can feel him cooking up and shall the story is laid out as a classic sort with classical allusions let's say like that than Venice or the magic mountain and you feel that that mom almost peculiarly among modern writers has taken has drawn a bead on what it is to be a classic and have somehow written his works almost without in mind I'm sure that some readers resent that as a matter of just I don't I don't get it. If it had worked it would be grotesque. But it did work really because he had man's ability. Create characters and great themes So this brings up another point. Is it necessary I would mention money is made if they do that. Is this somebody who is probably going to be a classic as an entry is it necessary for a classic that to
have some concern for form because all the people we've mentioned really are people these are all books in which form is important. Are there any classics which are formless and unconscious outpoints I mean it's structured part of the classics. Why can't I do the whole of the deliberate attention to years of materials and in the place where I can there's such a now and I would have a different notion that only no magic formula but I don't think I want to keep that out. I mean a classic innocence doesn't also have to have a satisfying structure. Oh yes I mean there is no question in my mind that it has to have a satisfying structure all of it. That structure can be very complex and not symmetric all I need but I can be on a whale they are friendly to me I'm going to you know bat well for example something with a primitive structure primitive way of dealing with things I drop other things for example. Nobody would say that a novel like this the F-keys the possessed is anything less than a great classic and yet the structure of this twisted and tortured
there are all sorts of things going on. Yes but it is a it's a menu for I want him a thank you that's better but it is a structure I mean with it's own it's a part of a very sophisticated that I have not so much rather than the structure is weak at I suppose you would have to say yes but you know what you're implying I think it's true that a really sophisticated and creative literary mind can only conceive of things in terms of a set of a structure where the meaning is always there in a but some classical things are written by unconscious people who are not sophisticated and who have some tremendous outpouring I suddenly can't think I'm running in a saucepan on Yasser the robot that has classical form the less and less out of the Bible is used to be we all know pretty well and are able to tell. Recognize elements of the classic in the book. Oh which must mean that even though of any writer falls into the trough after his death and
then comes up again. Can you think of any book which is now regarded as a classic wood was never from the time was written thought highly of me and done it was an example of man was thought highly about at this time then forgotten and then came back to what a classic has to be recognized at the time it's written to the not know who or why not. Theoretically I would think theoretically but actually usually those in the know. I think someone is sad and I think others are important. That is many classics have been buried as survive and I feel that's absolutely true that there are books that have equal merit and works of art that somehow have been lost. Well well that's physical survival with the chords. We're out there a perfect picture come up the whole thing about religion is very complex because it also has to do with things like Translation. I think of something like the works of Kleist which I've just you know only in the last few years been translated into English. Well he's a great classic but he wasn't.
Yes for a while but not only recently that as I buried him for a while though. But he never existed in English before and was translated a few years ago he exists now in English and became a classic just like not just by virtue of the fact that it was translated becomes an accent and well you know the audience is even aware which bring its banks were made to one of the classic sequence of vitality I think is that you have something to say to every generation who read it and that in order to be a classic it must have survived. Over some period of time you agree must continue to survive and must continue to survive. Robin I think we all agree that we don't even know the definition of the classically although very well what they are. You have been listening to gateway to ideas a new series of conversations in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading today's program. Wanted a redefinition of the classics as presented Elizabeth Hardwick author and one of the founders and presently advisory editor of The New York Review of Books and
Stephen Marcus associate professor of English at Columbia University and author of the forthcoming book on Dickens the moderator was Routh Backlund managing editor of Horizon magazine. To extend the dimensions of today's program for you a list of the books mentioned in the discussion as well as others relevant to the subject has been prepared. You can obtain a copy from your local library all by writing to gateway to ideas post office box 6 for 1 Time Square Station New York. And please enclose a stamp self-addressed envelope right to box 6 for 1 Time Square Station New York gateway to ideas is produced by national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation. The programs are prepared by the National Book Committee and the American Library Association in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters technical production by Riverside radio W.
- Gateway to ideas
- Wanted: Redefinition of classics
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- WRVR (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- American Library Association
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- Episode Description
- This program presents a discussion on redefining the classics. Panelists are Elizabeth Hardwick, co-founder of New York Review of Books; and Steven Marcus, Columbia University.
- Series Description
- This discussion series, produced by the American Library Association, features noted authors, critics and scholars on various topics.
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Announcer: Meyer, Eva
Moderator: Backlund, Ralph
Panelist: Hardwick, Elizabeth
Panelist: Marcus, Steven, 1928-
Producing Organization: WRVR (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Producing Organization: American Library Association
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 65-2-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Gateway to ideas; Wanted: Redefinition of classics.” 1965-01-04. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 28, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-n00ztj16>.
- APA: Gateway to ideas; Wanted: Redefinition of classics. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-n00ztj16