Why Read The Classics?

What are the ‘classics?’ They are a canon of the most beautiful, profound, insightful, inspiring, philosophically engaging, morally rich, intellectually challenging, and existentially relatable literature ever produced. And that’s far from being an arbitrary statement or mere expression of personal opinion. Until recently, a strong consensus existed within most western universities that reading the classics was essential to the attainment of almost any basic higher education. Why? Well, partly because such books have managed to withstand the test of time, indicating they bear something approximating an ageless relevance. Plus, because of the inestimable degree to which they have shaped the society we inherited. And finally, because they discipline the minds of readers to think along more critical lines and instill proper grammar. 

Now, some of the most recent objections to reading the classics include ; who cares about reading books largely penned by old dead white men? Stanford undergraduates complain that “students of color” are “not seeing themselves represented in the books taught in class.” Maintaining that the authors of the classics are “not a very diverse group.” And that’s fair so long as the only dimension of diversity you have in mind is race. Another objection leveled against reading the classics is ; who wants to read books pervaded by the attitudes, technology, or language of some bygone era? However, in order to introduce any theme, must it not be clothed in some kind of sociocultural context? Much of the literature being written now is pervaded by the attitudes, technology, and language of our time. And our posterity is set to inherit such literature. Would we prefer they dismiss it on the grounds of being deficient in contextual contemporariness? 

5 Comments

  1. Excellent essay. What defines a book as a classic? That might be hard to determine, surely there are underrated books that have been buried by the sands of time.

    I often wonder what contemporary books will be considered classics 100 years from now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Peter. The essay is unfinished. But that very important (if not, central) question will definitely be addressed in future revised versions.

      For now, my answer is : it seems like what makes a book a classic is (1.) its age and (2.) its prestige.

      If humanity and literature survives another 100 years, I have no idea what contemporary books will be considered classics.

      Liked by 1 person

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