Sounding the Classics: From Sophocles to Thomas Mann

Sounding the Classics: From Sophocles to Thomas Mann

Sounding the Classics: From Sophocles to Thomas Mann

Sounding the Classics: From Sophocles to Thomas Mann

Synopsis

This book is a comparative study of twelve works of fiction broadly representative of the Western canon. Its aim is to discover what gives these 12 works their lasting appeal and vitality over and beyond their formal qualities. It focuses on the interplay of "text" and "subtext" within each work after defining these terms at the outset. It then compares its twelve sample classics systematically in a conclusion that argues from the works themselves to classics in general.

Excerpt

Why do most readers at most times and places find a certain few works of literature great? At least since Aristotle the answer has been sought in the West in such textual qualities as plot, style, or argument. I propose to seek it instead in the interplay of two aspects of any literary classic: what it states outright and what it conveys between the lines. More specifically, I mean to explore that interplay in each of a dozen undisputed and broadly representative Western literary classics by turns, casting few glances forward or backward along the way. My final aim is to pool my dozen findings in a general conclusion about what makes a classic a classic.

Let me call the two terms of that interplay "text" and "subtext" for short. in my usage to follow, "text" will denote, then, not just the words comprising a given work, but their overt purport as well. and "subtext" will mean, unsurprisingly, a second understanding of that same work that it itself imparts, only not outright--that it conveys unequivocally, only not immediately or in so many words. Occasional self-explanatory variants such as "overtheme" and "undertheme" will break the monotony of these key terms "text" and "subtext" while also refocusing their meaning as my context may require.

A text is grasped consciously. a subtext is grasped along with a text, but less than consciously unless and until it is searched out or pointed out. Some rough analogies may serve. Hidden-image painting depicts one thing that, as we keep . . .

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