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Can a genial Writer become old-fashioned ?
Little by little, in the recent decades, the number of people reading Boileau's books steadily declined: I thought "L'Art Poétique" ("The Poetic Art") was an immortal masterpiece in our literary heritage. In fact, his biggest French editor recently decided not to renew the publication, acting a kind of death. Who still reads Boileau anymore ? 

Moreover, what happened with important figures of the French literature well known at the end of the 19th century, or at the beginning of the 20th: Roger Martin du Gard, Anatole France (most admired by Proust), Romain Rolland, the "best writer of his time" for Stefan Zweig ? And for some less known writers of the same period, as the comtesse de Noailles, "brilliant poet" according to Proust ?

The disappearance in our memory of brilliant writers is a constant phenomena, in the literature as in the artistic world in general: many brilliant composers considered as genius in the 19th century are now almost forgotten: as an example, one of the most interesting organ composers of the end of the 19th, Joseph Rheinberger, is no longer in our memory, at least in France: He was, during his time, for his piano and orchestral works, and for his teaching, as admired as Brahms. So what happened ?

Even huge figures still solid are at risk of becoming out of fashion. I may think (maybe I'm wrong) that Jean-Jacques Rousseau is among them. Less and less read are his masterworks, even if his name is preserved thanks to law and philosophy studies at the University, especially for the "Social Pact". If my assumption is true, it is a great loss: the poetic inspiration in the "Rêveries du promeneur solitaire" ("The dreams of the lonely walker") is so deep, that it is important to keep this book in our memory, and to come back to it from time to time, as a breath of fresh air.

Should we accept seeing important texts being forgotten ? Genial authors sorting out of the literature to fall in the history ? Should we on the contrary try to keep their memory alive ? Our discussions on ThinQon are a way to remember important writers, by giving some citations which may revitalize our memory. I came back to the "rêveries du promeneur solitaire" last summer, reopening the book for the first time in 10 years, thanks to a beautiful post  with some well chosen extracts. 

 When we read books, or when we play piano, we could choose from time to time one of the forgotten authors, in order to keep them in our memory. They may be as interesting as those remaining the most famous. 

I would love to hear some views about that question.
Books Discussed
The Reveries of the Solitary Walker, Botanical Writings, and Letter to Franquieres (Collected Writin
by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
L'art poétique: précédé d'une notice littéraire et accompagné de notes (French Edition)
by Nicolas Boileau Despréaux
The Gods Will Have Blood (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics)
by Anatole France

Hi Pierre,

Posts on Thinqon gave me the opportunity to reread classics too: La Rochefoucault, Montaigne, Du Bellay and now Boileau. It’s always a pleasant experience indeed. I see the disappearance of classics as inevitable for two reasons.

First, it seems to me the role of schools 5/18years is evolving radically worldwide. In French, the old word for school teacher is Instituteur. Which comes from instituer, instituer l’humanité en l’homme, to edify/establish humanity in men. Studying humanities was a large part of this process. The goal was to prepare the student to be his own men, to be able to make his own enlightened decisions. Nowadays, schools are fabricating good citizens. As a friend teacher put it: “We are not teaching kids how to swim but how to behave/interact in a swimming pool”. Hence the classics inevitable disappearance.

It reminds me of Disgrace’s David Lurie clinging to his Wenthworth before the sleeping audience. And his English Literature Department renamed Communication Department while he was away, aware but unwilling to adjust to this new South Africa.

The second reason is Freud and his unconscious. Classics are the masters of the visible plan indeed. But Freud said: Stop there. There is an invisible plan that determines the visible one. What is not known determines what classics are so good at. All of a sudden, Montaigne’s introspections seem incomplete, outdated. Very refreshing though, but obsolete.

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Latest Post: February 10, 2011 at 7:34 AM
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