伊塔洛·卡尔维诺:为什么要读经典?

伊塔洛·卡尔维诺:为什么要读经典?

黄灿然

Italo Calvino让我们先提出一些定义。

一、经典作品是那些你经常听人家说“我正在重读……”而不是“我正在读……”的书。

至少对那些被视为“博学”的人是如此;它不适用于年轻人,因为他们处于这样一种年龄: 他们接触世界和接触成为世界的一部分的经典作品之所以重要,恰恰是因为这是他们的最初接触。

代表反复的“重”,放在动词“读”之前,对某些耻于承认未读过某部名著的人来说,可能代表着一种小小的虚伪。为了让他们放心,只要指出这点就够了,也即无论一个人在性格形成期阅读多么广泛,总还会有众多的重要作品未读。

任何人如果读过希罗多德和修昔底德的全部作品,请举手。圣西门又如何?还有雷斯枢机主教?即使是十九世纪那些伟大的系列小说,通常也是提及多于读过。在法国,他们开始在学校读巴尔扎克,而从各种版本的销量来判断,人们显然在学生时代结束后还在继续读他。但是,如果在意大利对巴尔扎克的受欢迎程度作一次正式调查,他的排名恐怕会很低。狄更斯在意大利的崇拜者是一小撮精英,他们一见面就开始回忆各种人物和片断,仿佛在谈论他们在现实生活中认识的人。米歇尔·布托多年前在美国教书时,人们老是向他问起左拉,令他烦不胜烦,因为他从未读过左拉,于是他下决心读整个《鲁贡玛卡家族》系列。他发现,它与他想像中的完全是两回事: 它竟是寓言般的、神话学式的系谱学和天体演化学,他后来曾在一篇精彩的文章中描述这个体系。

上述例子表明,在一个人完全成年时首次读一部伟大作品,是一种极大的乐趣,这种乐趣跟青少年时代非常不同(至于是否有更大乐趣则很难说)。在青少年时代,每一次阅读就像每一次经验,都会增添独特的滋味和意义;而在成熟的年龄,一个人会欣赏(或者说应该欣赏)更多的细节、层次和含义。因此,我们不妨尝试以其他方式:

二、经典作品是这样一些书,它们对读过并喜爱它们的人构成一种宝贵的经验;但是对那些保留这个机会,等到享受它们的最佳状态来临时才阅读它们的人,它们也仍然是一种丰富的经验。

因为实际情况是,我们年轻时所读的东西,往往价值不大,这又是因为我们没耐性、精神不能集中、缺乏阅读技能,或因为我们缺乏人生经验。这种青少年的阅读可能(也许同时)具有形成性格的作用,理由是它赋予我们未来的经验一种形式或形状,为这些经验提供模式,提供处理这些经验的手段,比较的措辞,把这些经验加以归类的方法,价值的衡量标准,美的范例:这一切都继续在我们身上起作用,哪怕我们已差不多忘记或完全忘记我们年轻时所读的那本书。当我们在成熟时期重读这本书,我们就会重新发现那些现已构成我们内部机制的一部分的恒定事物,尽管我们已回忆不起它们从哪里来。这种作品有一个特殊效力,就是它本身可能会被忘记,却把种籽留在我们身上。我们现在可以给出这样的定义:

三、经典作品是一些产生某种特殊影响的书,它们要么自己以遗忘的方式给我们的想像力打下印记,要么乔装成个人或集体的无意识隐藏在深层记忆中。

基于这个理由,一个人的成年生活应有一段时间用于重新发现我们青少年时代读过的最重要作品。即使这些书依然如故(其实它们也随着历史角度的转换而改变),我们肯定已经改变了,因此后来这次接触也就是全新的。
所以,我们用动词“读”或动词“重读”也就不真的那么重要。事实上我们可以说:

四、一部经典作品是一本每次重读都好像初读那样带来发现的书。

五、一部经典作品是一本即使我们初读也好像是在重温我们以前读过的东西的书。

上述第四个定义可视为如下定义的必然结果:

六、一部经典作品是一本从不会耗尽它要向读者说的一切东西的书。

而第五个定义则隐含如下更复杂的方程式:

七、经典作品是这样一些书,它们带着以前的解释的特殊气氛走向我们,背后拖着它们经过文化或多种文化(或只是多种语言和风俗习惯)时留下的足迹。

这同时适用于古代和现代经典。如果我读《奥德赛》,我是在读荷马的文本,但我也不能忘记尤利西斯的历险在几个世纪以来所意味的一切事情,而我不能不怀疑这些意味究竟是隐含于原著文本中,还是后来逐渐增添、变形或扩充的。如果我读卡夫卡,我就会一边认可一边抗拒“卡夫卡式的”这个形容词的合法性,因为我们老是听见它被用于指称可以说任何事情。如果我读屠格涅夫的《父与子》或陀斯妥耶夫斯基的《恶魔》我就不能不思索这些书中的人物是如何继续一路转世投胎,一直到我们这个时代。

读一部经典作品还一定会令我们感到意外,当我们拿它与我们以前所想像的它比较。这就是为什么我们总要一再推荐读第一手文本,尽量避免二手书目、评论和其他解释。中学和大学都应加强这样一个想法,也即任何一本讨论另一本书的书,所说的都永远比不上被讨论的书;然而他们竭尽全力要让学生相信的,事实上恰恰相反。这里存在一种流行很广的价值的逆转,即是说,导言、批评机器和书目被用得像烟幕,遮蔽了文本在没有中间人的情况下必须说和只能说的东西——而中间人总是宣称他们所知比文本自身还多。因此,我们可以总结:

八、一部经典作品是这样一部作品,它不断让周围制造一团批评话语的尘雾会,却总是把那些微粒抖掉。

一部经典作品不一定要教一些我们不知道的东西;有时候我们在一部经典作品中发现我们已知道或总以为我们已知道的东西,却没有料到那个经典文本早就说了(或那个想法与那个文本有一种特殊联系)。这种发现同时也是非常令人满足的意外,例如当我们弄清楚一个想法的来源,或它与某个文本的联系,或谁先说了,我们总会有这种感觉。综上所述,我们可以得出如下定义:

九、经典作品是这样一些书,我们越是道听途说,以为我们懂了,当我们实际读它们,我们就越是觉得它们独特、意想不到和新颖。

当然,发生这种情况通常是因为一部经典作品的文本“起到”一部经典作品的作用,即是说,它与读者建立一种个人关系。如果没有火花,这种做法就没有意义: 出于职责或敬意读经典作品是没用的,我们只应仅仅因为喜爱而读它们。除了在学校:无论你愿不愿意,学校都要教你读一些经典作品,在这些作品当中(或通过把它们作为一个基准)你以后将辨别“你的”经典作品。学校有责任向你提供这些工具,使你可以作出你自己的决定;但是,只有那些你在学校教育之后或之外选择的东西才有价值。
只有在非强制的阅读中,你才会碰到将成为“你的”书的书。我认识一位出色的艺术史专家,一个极其广博的人,在他读过的所有著作中,他最喜欢《匹克威克外传》,他在任何讨论期间,都会引用狄更斯这本书的片断,并把他生命中每一个事件与匹克威克的生平联系起来。渐渐地,他本人、宇宙及其基本原理,都在一种完全认同的过程中,以《匹克威克外传》的面目呈现。如果我们沿着这条路走下去,我们就会形成对一部经典作品的想法,它既令人仰止又要求极高:

十、一部经典作品是这样一个名称,它用于形容任何一本表现整个宇宙的书,一本与古代护身符不相上下的书。

这样一个定义,使我们进一步接近关于那本无所不包的书的想法,马拉梅梦寐以求的那种书。但是一部经典作品也同样可以建立一种不是认同而是反对或对立的强有力关系。卢梭的所有思想和行动对我都十分亲切,但是它们在我身上催发一种要抗拒他、要批评他、要与他辩论的无可抑制的迫切感。当然,这跟我觉得他的人格与我的性情难以相容这一事实有关,但是,如果这么简单的话,则我避免读他就行了;事实是,我不能不把他看成我的作者之一。所以,我要说:

十一、“你的”经典作品是这样一本书,它使你不能对它保持不闻不问,它帮助你在与它的关系中甚至在反对它的过程中确立你自己。

我不相信需要为我使用“经典”这个名称辩解,我这里不用古代、风格和权威等字眼来区分。(关于这个名称的上述种种意义的历史,弗朗哥·福尔蒂尼为《伊诺第百科全书》第三册撰写的“经典”条目有极详尽的阐述。)基于我这个看法,一部经典作品的不同之处,也许仅仅是我们从一部不管是古代还是现代、但在一种文化延续性之中有它自己的位置的作品那里所感到的某种共鸣。我们可以说:

十二、一部经典作品是一部早于其他经典作品的作品;但是那些先读过其他经典作品的人,一下子就认出它在众多经典作品的系谱图中的位置。

至此,我再也不能搁置一个关键问题,也即如何协调阅读经典与阅读其他一切不是经典的文本之间的关系。这个问题与其他问题有关,例如: “为什么要读经典作品,而不是读那些使我们对自己的时代有更深了解的作品?”和“我们哪里有时间和闲情去读经典作品?我们已被有关现在的各类印刷品的洪水淹没了。”

十三,一部经典作品是这样一部作品,它把现在的噪音调校成一种背景轻音,而这种背景轻音是经典作品的存在不可或缺的。

十四,一部经典作品是这样一部作品,哪怕与之格格不入的现在占统治地位,它也坚持成为一种背景噪音。

事实仍然是读经典作品似乎与我们的生活步调不一致,我们的生活步调无法忍受把大段大段的时间或空间让给人本主义者的悠闲;也与我们文化中的精英主义不一致,这种精英主义永远也制订不出一份经典作品的目录来配合我们的时代。

这反而恰恰是莱奥帕尔迪的生活的环境:住在父亲的城堡,他得利用父亲莫纳尔多那个令人生畏的藏书室,实行他对希腊和拉丁古籍的崇拜,并给藏书室增添了到那个时代为止的全部意大利文学,以及所有法国文学——除了唱片小说和最新出版的作品,它们数量极少,完全是为了让妹妹消遣(“你的司汤达”是他跟保利娜谈起这位法国小说家时的用语)。莱奥帕尔迪甚至端起绝不算“新近”的文本,来满足他对科学和历史著作的极端热情,读布封的关于鸟类的习惯的著作,读丰特奈尔关于弗雷德里克·勒依斯的木乃伊的著作,以及罗宾森的关于哥伦布的著作。

今天,像青年莱奥帕尔迪那样接受古典作品的熏陶,已难以想象,尤其是他父亲莫纳尔多伯爵的藏书室已经崩溃。说崩溃就是说那些古书已所剩无几,也指新书已扩散到所有现代文学和文化里去。现在可以做的,就是让我们每个人都发明我们理想的经典藏书室;而我想说,其中一半应该包括我们读过并对我们有所裨益的书,另一些应该是我们打算读并假设对我们有所裨益的书。我们还应该把一部分空间让给意外之书和偶然发现之书。

我注意到,莱奥帕尔迪是我唯一提到的来自意大利文学的名字。这是那个藏书崩溃的结果。现在我应重写整篇文章,使它明白表示,经典作品帮助我们理解我们是谁和我们所到达的位置,进而明白意大利经典作品对我们意大利人是不可或缺的,否则我们就无法比较外国的经典作品;同样地,外国经典作品也是不可或缺的,否则我们就无法比较意大利的经典作品。

接着,我还真的应该第三次重写这篇文章,以免人们相信之所以要读经典作品是以为它有某种用途。唯一可以列举出来讨他们欢心的理由是,读经典作品总比不读好。

而如果有谁反对说,它们不值得那么费劲,我想援引纪奥伦(不是一个经典作家,至少还不是一个经典作家,却是一个现正被译成意大利文的现代思想家):“ 当毒药正在准备中的时候,苏格拉底正在用长笛练习一支曲调。‘这有什么用呢?’有人问他。‘至少我死前可以学习这支曲调。’”


Why Read the Classics?

Italo Calvino, translated by Patrick Creagh. The New York Review of Books, OCTOBER 9, 1986 ISSUE

Let us begin with a few suggested definitions.

1) The classics are the books of which we usually hear people say: “I am rereading…” and never “I am reading….”

This at least happens among those who consider themselves “very well read.” It does not hold good for young people at the age when they first encounter the world, and the classics as a part of that world.

The reiterative prefix before the verb “read” may be a small hypocrisy on the part of people ashamed to admit they have not read a famous book. To reassure them, we need only observe that, however vast any person’s basic reading may be, there still remain an enormous number of fundamental works that he has not read.

Hands up, anyone who has read the whole of Herodotus and the whole of Thucydides! And Saint-Simon? And Cardinal de Retz? But even the great nineteenth-century cycles of novels are more often talked about than read. In France they begin to read Balzac in school, and judging by the number of copies in circulation, one may suppose that they go on reading him even after that, but if a Gallup poll were taken in Italy, I’m afraid that Balzac would come in practically last. Dickens fans in Italy form a tiny elite; as soon as its members meet, they begin to chatter about characters and episodes as if they were discussing people and things of their own acquaintance. Years ago, while teaching in America, Michel Butor got fed up with being asked about Emile Zola, whom he had never read, so he made up his mind to read the entire Rougon-Macquart cycle. He found it was completely different from what he had thought: a fabulous mythological and cosmogonical family tree, which he went on to describe in a wonderful essay.

In other words, to read a great book for the first time in one’s maturity is an extraordinary pleasure, different from (though one cannot say greater or lesser than) the pleasure of having read it in one’s youth. Youth brings to reading, as to any other experience, a particular flavor and a particular sense of importance, whereas in maturity one appreciates (or ought to appreciate) many more details and levels and meanings. We may therefore attempt the next definition:

2) We use the word “classics” for those books that are treasured by those who have read and loved them; but they are treasured no less by those who have the luck to read them for the first time in the best conditions to enjoy them.

In fact, reading in youth can be rather unfruitful, owing to impatience, distraction, inexperience with the product’s “instructions for use,” and inexperience in life itself. Books read then can be (possibly at one and the same time) formative, in the sense that they give a form to future experiences, providing models, terms of comparison, schemes for classification, scales of value, exemplars of beauty—all things that continue to operate even if the book read in one’s youth is almost or totally forgotten. If we reread the book at a mature age we are likely to rediscover these constants, which by this time are part of our inner mechanisms, but whose origins we have long forgotten. A literary work can succeed in making us forget it as such, but it leaves its seed in us. The definition we can give is therefore this:

3) The classics are books that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.

There should therefore be a time in adult life devoted to revisiting the most important books of our youth. Even if the books have remained the same (though they do change, in the light of an altered historical perspective), we have most certainly changed, and our encounter will be an entirely new thing.

Hence, whether we use the verb “read” or the verb “reread” is of little importance. Indeed, we may say:

4) Every rereading of a classic is as much a voyage of discovery as the first reading.

5) Every reading of a classic is in fact a rereading.

Definition 4 may be considered a corollary of this next one:

6) A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.

Whereas definition 5 depends on a more specific formula, such as this:

7) The classics are the books that come down to us bearing upon them the traces of readings previous to ours, and bringing in their wake the traces they themselves have left on the culture or cultures they have passed through (or, more simply, on language and customs).

All this is true both of the ancient and of the modern classics. If I read the Odyssey I read Homer’s text, but I cannot forget all that the adventures of Ulysses have come to mean in the course of the centuries, and I cannot help wondering if these meanings were implicit in the text, or whether they are incrustations or distortions or expansions. When reading Kafka, I cannot avoid approving or rejecting the legitimacy of the adjective “Kafkaesque,” which one is likely to hear every quarter of an hour, applied indiscriminately. If I read Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons or Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, I cannot help thinking how these characters have continued to be reincarnated right down to our own day.

The reading of a classic ought to give us a surprise or two vis-à-vis the notion that we had of it. For this reason I can never sufficiently highly recommend the direct reading of the text itself, leaving aside the critical biography, commentaries, and interpretations as much as possible. Schools and universities ought to help us to understand that no book that talks about a book says more than the book in question, but instead they do their level best to make us think the opposite. There is a very widespread topsyturviness of values whereby the introduction, critical apparatus, and bibliography are used as a smoke screen to hide what the text has to say, and, indeed, can say only if left to speak for itself without intermediaries who claim to know more than the text does. We may conclude that:

8) A classic does not necessarily teach us anything we did not know before. In a classic we sometimes discover something we have always known (or thought we knew), but without knowing that this author said it first, or at least is associated with it in a special way. And this, too, is a surprise that gives a lot of pleasure, such as we always gain from the discovery of an origin, a relationship, an affinity. From all this we may derive a definition of this type:

9) The classics are books that we find all the more new, fresh, and unexpected upon reading, the more we thought we knew them from hearing them talked about.

Naturally, this only happens when a classic really works as such—that is, when it establishes a personal rapport with the reader. If the spark doesn’t come, that’s a pity; but we do not read the classics out of duty or respect, but only out of love. Except at school. And school should enable you to know, either well or badly, a certain number of classics among which—or in reference to which—you can then choose your classics. School is obliged to give you the instruments needed to make a choice, but the choices that count are those that occur outside and after school.

It is only by reading without bias that you might possibly come across the book that becomes your book. I know an excellent art historian, an extraordinarily well-read man, who out of all the books there are has focused his special love on the Pickwick Papers; at every opportunity he comes up with some quip from Dickens’s book, and connects each and every event in life with some Pickwickian episode. Little by little he himself, and true philosophy, and the universe, have taken on the shape and form of the Pickwick Papers by a process of complete identification. In this way we arrive at a very lofty and demanding notion of what a classic is:

10) We use the word “classic” of a book that takes the form of an equivalent to the universe, on a level with the ancient talismans. With this definition we are approaching the idea of the “total book,” as Mallarmé conceived of it.

But a classic can establish an equally strong rapport in terms of opposition and antithesis. Everything that Jean-Jacques Rousseau thinks and does is very dear to my heart, yet everything fills me with an irrepressible desire to contradict him, to criticize him, to quarrel with him. It is a question of personal antipathy on a temperamental level, on account of which I ought to have no choice but not to read him; and yet I cannot help numbering him among my authors. I will therefore say:

11) Your classic author is the one you cannot feel indifferent to, who helps you to define yourself in relation to him, even in dispute with him.

I think I have no need to justify myself for using the word “classic” without making distinctions about age, style, or authority. What distinguishes the classic, in the argument I am making, may be only an echo effect that holds good both for an ancient work and for a modern one that has already achieved its place in a cultural continuum. We might say:

12) A classic is a book that comes before other classics; but anyone who has read the others first, and then reads this one, instantly recognizes its place in the family tree.

At this point I can no longer put off the vital problem of how to relate the reading of the classics to the reading of all the other books that are anything but classics. It is a problem connected with such questions as, Why read the classics rather than concentrate on books that enable us to understand our own times more deeply? or, Where shall we find the time and peace of mind to read the classics, overwhelmed as we are by the avalanche of current events?

We can, of course, imagine some blessed soul who devotes his reading time exclusively to Lucretius, Lucian, Montaigne, Erasmus, Quevedo, Marlowe, the Discourse on Method, Wilhelm Meister, Coleridge, Ruskin, Proust, and Valéry, with a few forays in the direction of Murasaki or the Icelandic sagas. And all this without having to write reviews of the latest publications, or papers to compete for a university chair, or articles for magazines on tight deadlines. To keep up such a diet without any contamination, this blessed soul would have to abstain from reading the newspapers, and never be tempted by the latest novel or sociological investigation. But we have to see how far such rigor would be either justified or profitable. The latest news may well be banal or mortifying, but it nonetheless remains a point at which to stand and look both backward and forward. To be able to read the classics you have to know “from where” you are reading them; otherwise both the book and the reader will be lost in a timeless cloud. This, then, is the reason why the greatest “yield” from reading the classics will be obtained by someone who knows how to alternate them with the proper dose of current affairs. And this does not necessarily imply a state of imperturbable inner calm. It can also be the fruit of nervous impatience, of a huffing-and-puffing discontent of mind.

Maybe the ideal thing would be to hearken to current events as we do to the din outside the window that informs us about traffic jams and sudden changes in the weather, while we listen to the voice of the classics sounding clear and articulate inside the room. But it is already a lot for most people if the presence of the classics is perceived as a distant rumble far outside a room that is swamped by the trivia of the moment, as by a television at full blast. Let us therefore add:

13) A classic is something that tends to relegate the concerns of the moment to the status of background noise, but at the same time this background noise is something we cannot do without.

14) A classic is something that persists as a background noise even when the most incompatible momentary concerns are in control of the situation.

There remains the fact that reading the classics appears to clash with our rhythm of life, which no longer affords long periods of time or the spaciousness of humanistic leisure. It also contradicts the eclecticism of our culture, which would never be capable of compiling a catalog of things classical such as would suit our needs.

These latter conditions were fully realized in the case of Leopardi, given his solitary life in his father’s house (his “paterno ostello“), his cult of Greek and Latin antiquity, and the formidable library put at his disposal by his father, Monaldo. To which we may add the entire body of Italian literature and of French literature, with the exception of novels and the “latest thing out” in general, all of which were at least swept off into the sidelines, there to comfort the leisure of his sister Paolina (“your Stendhal,” he wrote her once). Even with his intense interest in science and history, he was often willing to rely on texts that were not entirely up-to-date, taking the habits of birds from Buffon, the mummies of Frederik Ruysch from Fontanelle, the voyage of Columbus from Robertson.

In these days a classical education like the young Leopardi’s is unthinkable; above all, Count Monaldo’s library has multiplied explosively. The ranks of the old titles have been decimated, while new ones have proliferated in all modern literatures and cultures. There is nothing for it but for all of us to invent our own ideal libraries of classics. I would say that such a library ought to be composed half of books we have read and that have really counted for us, and half of books we propose to read and presume will come to count—leaving a section of empty shelves for surprises and occasional discoveries.

I realize that Leopardi is the only name I have cited from Italian literature—a result of the explosion of the library. Now I ought to rewrite the whole article to make it perfectly clear that the classics help us to understand who we are and where we stand, a purpose for which it is indispensable to compare Italians with foreigners and foreigners with Italians.

Then I ought to rewrite it yet again lest anyone believe that the classics ought to be read because they “serve any purpose” whatever. The only reason one can possibly adduce is that to read the classics is better than not to read the classics.

And if anyone objects that it is not worth taking so much trouble, then I will quote Cioran (who is not yet a classic, but will become one):

While they were preparing the hemlock, Socrates was learning a tune on the flute. “What good will it do you,” they asked, “to know this tune before you die?”

—translated by Patrick Creagh

English translation copyright © 1986 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.

2 Comments

  1. 我爱史记 · 2009-6-3 Reply

    当今世界,可能自古如此。潜心读经典,不只是精神界的和谐愉悦,也是需要勇气和毅力的。
    真正的经典会在你不平静时,心中的形而上,但确实存在,是安定之源,是力量之源。
    希望潜心读经典,不要成为“永远是少数人的事业”。
    希望有社会责任感的诸先生,说出您的经典,与众生分享。

  2. bufadai · 2009-8-2 Reply

    真知灼见。这篇文章本身就符合其对“经典”的描述。

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