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To play Devil's Advocate - I suspect some 'classic' literature only continues to be great because we're told it is. I'm not sure how much of it is read for pleasure at all, or how much would be labelled classic if it were discovered today. Even when it's read for pleasure, it's not necessarily read for depth. Jane Austen remains popular because she wrote early romcoms, not so much because she's quietly scathing, sarcastic and insightful.

The one constant in art history is changing taste. This century's renowned genius painters, composers and writers were last century's nobodies.

This makes obsessive scrabbling for posterity counterproductive. No one knows what the tastes of the next few centuries will be, or even if they'll have the same ideas about serious art that we do.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 at 08:13:40 AM EST
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All excellent points.

One of the greatest lessons I received as an undergraduate was from a young professor who opened his Shakespeare course by literally tearing into Othello as a horribly plotted drama with so many faults which would not pass today in any of the literate arts. (I can give details on what he said).

The net effect was to render Shakespeare's canonicity suspect, and then to reconstruct our understanding of the Bard. Some people did not take to kindly to the "tactic" since some authors are obviously sacrosanct within the canon.

In the USA, we read the earliest works of American Literature in much the same fashion, as though they are the very building blocks of our culture. But a close and wary eye on the literature makes you really wonder about the worth of, say, Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Are we reading it because it was first? Well, yes.

by Upstate NY on Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 at 01:40:49 PM EST
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