Many times asked and many times not answered question.
So, just don’t worry if you can’t either.
No precise definition there.
Fannie M. Clark asked 14 years old students that question and got two answers:
1. Books worthy to be read in school
2. Books that fathers give you and you keep them to give to your children
My father did give me classics. Tolstoy and Hemingway are his favorites.
So, one just has to be struck by it: why do we do it?
The answer is in our nature.
Humans are dual creatures: biological and sociological.
We must breath, eat and reproduce in order to survive, but also to organize, because alone we couldn’t make it. We can’t reproduce alone, neither hunt and keep guards at the same time and so on. So, we connect, create marriages, tribes, kingdoms, republics, global village…
The way we do that is – culture.
You see, everything we say, how we dress, cut our hair, spend money, do we marry for love or by an agreement, all our relations to people surrounding us: all that is culture.
Not some boring concert or abstract painting on an exhibition canvas. That is art.
Art is a manifestation of a culture.
Just like an icon on your desktop. When you click on it you see that it looks just right to represent all the content behind it.
Literature is an icon as well.
It represents society that created it.
That means that by reading we can see in apprehensible way all enormity of the world around us.
Classical literature carries values that we all share that created a world we live in. It passes from one generation to another morals, ideals, expectations how we should live our lives and all doubts regarding all aspects of the society. Literature that is considered classical is the one that condensed in the most essential characteristics of a dominant culture.
Classical literature and dominant culture
In every society there are many voices. So, it is not simple to say for example: we live in an open society, because we have internet, we travel a lot, planes are really affordable. That is all true, for the first time in history we have that kind of freedom, but there are also a lot of wars, censorship, poverty and so on. We can’t say that this is a pop music era only, because, we have a lot of rock, metal, classical music out there too.
You see, there is everything everywhere, but we can say that dominant culture now is openness and communicativity that internet and traveling brought to us.
That is what makes this era different from the others.
Dominant culture is a movement in a history that defined a society.
And it can be changed, replaced, developed, as it always has been and it is an only a stage in development of a human thought.
Dominate culture of medieval times was not the same as today. Not even in 50s. Just think of the shock that Elvis and Beatles caused. But there is a pattern there. It is a same string. String of a western culture developing and changing.
As a humanity we are in a sense the same. We have always the same passions, thirst for knowledge, love, hatred, wars, conflict, we create and destroy. There is a constant in us. At the same time, our beliefs change, we shift from one point of view to another and we progress. Or, at least, we are moving in a certain direction.
Dominant culture is a form of organisation, relationships and beliefs that were adopted in one period. And the literature (art in general) that captures it in the best way is what we know as classical.
And that is no easy task.
It should have in perfect proportions the constant, what makes us humans, and the new, the world we created with our place in it.
So, we can say that works of art that survive the test of time are soul essence of an adventure of being human. In case of this blog, it is an adventure of being a western world human being. It is a catalog of finding the best formula for existing, answering the questions of happiness, meaning, progress, god.
It gives us a colorful stories of stopping the war trough sex strike, ghosts that seek a vengeance, conversation with a devil itself.
I consider a classical literature as worth of time, travel in the middle of immensity of the human spirit and experience.
It makes us laugh, cry, wonder over the greatest mystery there is: what it means to be a human.