JOURNAL

T H E I N T E R N AT I O N A L

of

THE

HUMANITIES
Volume 8, Number 8

What is a Classic According to T.S. Eliot and H.-G. Gadamer?
Tansu Acik

www.Humanities-Journal.com

Typeset in Common Ground Markup Language using CGCreator multichannel typesetting system http://www. no part of this work may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE HUMANITIES http://www.com First published in 2010 in Champaign. Apart from fair use for the purposes of study.Humanities-Journal. For permissions and other inquiries. supported by rigorous processes of criterion-referenced article ranking and qualitative commentary. research. USA by Common Ground Publishing LLC www. ISSN: 1447-9508 Publisher Site: http://www.Humanities-Journal.com/software/ . ensuring that only intellectual work of the greatest substance and highest significance is published. the author(s) © 2010 (selection and editorial matter) Common Ground Authors are responsible for the accuracy of citations. © 2010 (individual papers). tables and maps.com THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE HUMANITIES is peer-reviewed. All rights reserved.com>.commongroundpublishing. criticism or review as permitted under the Copyright Act (Australia).com. please contact <cg-support@commongroundpublishing.CommonGroundPublishing. Illinois. quotations. diagrams.

R. The Bollingen Library. because it lost its function of socialization and gained an educational value in the 19th century. in the second quarter of the 18th century Thoulier d’Olivet commented that. http://www. In this presentation we add to that list the concept of classic. 1. Turkey Abstract: According to vanguard study of Raymond Williams by 1976 we owe almost every substantial concept and institution of modern life to 19th century. Gadamer? Tansu Acik. Ankara. Culture.com . Gadamer. Tansu Acik. that in the 18th century the term ‘literature’ meant massive. Nietzche posed the same question in relation to German literature and gave a negative answer in The Wanderer and his Shadow (§125)1.What is a Classic According to T. deep knowledge. trans.com. vol 20. 2010. and Stendhal’s comment that Dante was belittled in Italy in 1800. Permissions: cg-support@commongroundpublishing. and Goethe began to be considered as classic European writers2. New Literary History. Also Gumbert argues that 18th century literature shifted from writing towards reading and interpretation. Canon. humanism. 2 E. 1988. No. Trask. 141-163. T. diverse. Eliot’s essay “What is classic?” would be scrutinized in the light of contemporary researches.Humanities-Journal. and erudition. The author also discusses a vital short text on the subject by Voltaire arguing that the French classics mainly consisted of drama that was regularly staged in France in the second half of 19th century. S. Then the notion and criteria of classic in T. It was not until the 19th century that Dante. W. For example. Curtius writes that Dante had been long forgotten in Italy. H. education. G. became transcendental and autonomous through the concept of the classic. Goethe and other writers in his milieu were the first to use the concepts of classic and classicism in a sense close to Hans Ulrich Gumbert. Gumbert discovered the concept of a classic that was close to the contemporary meaning. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages.S. even literature . R. Norton. ISSN 1447-9508 © Common Ground. Over the centuries certain authors writing in various languages have been regarded as “great”.-G. there is one of crucial importance. S. Literature. He quotes Alfieri’s argument that there were hardly thirty people who had read Dante’s Commedia in 18th century Italy. through the mediation of the German romantics. culture. The semantic field of term “classic” in various European languages would be examined always regarding to social context. such as democracy. in a book on Germany written by Madame de Staël in the 19th century. 348-350. the question of whether there were similar classical works in other languages would be raised. Among the convincing arguments. Later. Gadamer. Philosophical Hermeneutics. Eliot. Eliot and H. A Short Historical Perspective of a Classic Work I 1 N EUROPEAN LITERATURE. p. Trans.G. R. but until the 19th century no common concept existed to define the works they had created. Number 8. civilisation. “Italy has its classical writers we (the French) don’t”. art. Then we examine the notion of classic in the philosophical hermeneutics of H. The adjective ‘classic’ was used for the first time to qualify a certain period in French literature. University of Ankara. qualifying a work of living language as a classic began in France in the mid 18th century with a retrospective look at literary tradition. Education. Eliot’s analysis of classic is among the last comprehensive attempt of defining the concept. S. “Phoenix or Ashes: From Canon to Classic”. All Rights Reserved. Keywords: Classic. 1953 p. T. The International Journal of the Humanities Volume 8. Shakespeare.

1958. Humboldt is the only individual who is praised as outstanding in contrast to the politics mentioned in current events. even in France where a rival model had been created. vocational. the establishment of the secular secondary and higher education institutions by Goethe’s friend Wilhelm von Humboldt in Prussia. and the superiority of culture and criticism. German thinkers from consecutive generations were the determinants in the formation of the current meaning of classic as a concept from the beginning of 19th century. culture is “the best which has been thought and said in the world”. first used the term cultivation for the concept of bildung. and last to a way of life in both material and intellectual senses (Williams R.49-70). To sketch a rough picture it is important mention those things which are deeply interrelated for example. and for the first time in Europe. in contrast to a professional. In Coleridge’s writing. The educational ideals put forward by Humboldt and continued by Arnold and others.44. We are indebted to him for many key concepts and their applications: PhD programs based on original research. Arnold’s “sweet light”. and in 1810.1. despite otherwise defended opinions in Germany such as the article by David Sorkin mentioned above. from individual perfection. he discusses and criticizes the attitude towards education of almost every group. 1791-1810”. the common must-have that he attributes to the educated. or technical curriculum. “Wilhelm von Humboldt: The Theory and Practice of Self-Formation (Bildung).. from this were created the “gymnasium” a secondary school based on studying Greek-Roman texts in the original languages. s. in the context of current political events. According to Arnold. Columbia University Press. selfformation. middle-class bourgeoisie. He considers each group deficient in terms of understanding education. more or less aligned its educational system to the Prussian model. and especially his conception of Bildung or cultivation. namely the first modern university3. Wilhelm von Humboldt played the crucial role of embodying the classical concept in educational establishments and was the first to propagate the concept of culture being closely related to the definition of a classic work. the concept ceased to be a natural tendency for development and started to mean a certain state of general consciousness in conflict with the concept of civilisation in the sense of general material progress: R.55-73. The real issue for Arnold is education reform. Journal of the History of Ideas. No. vol. I will not deliberate here the connection of this education bill with the ideal of a new citizen. Culture and Society 1780/1950. math and history. namely liberals. to society’s overall development. which had been put forth by Enlightenment thinkers since Herder. He advocates the “Unification of Education” which was to be implemented as late as 1902 in the United Kingdom. the reevaluation of the Ancient Greek with fresh eyes and its appropriation by German scholars of classical philology and by writers surrounding Winckelmann’s friend Goethe. Arnold states that “Hellenism and Hebraism” are the two main components of British thought. academic autonomy and innovative scholarship. the University of Berlin. That approach gave rise to many higher education models such as the Liberal Arts College core curricula that aimed to impart general knowledge and develop general intellectual capacities. while translating German ideas into English. In Berlin in the first decades of the 19th century Goethe’s friend Humbolt developed the idea of Bildung. A generation before Arnold. Many universities emphasized a version of the Humboldtian Bildung and called it liberal education in English and culture générale in French. is based on acquaintances with “that which is thought and written in the best way”. I will just point that this education does not aim to train experts. are in a way ideal and supranational in their content and purposes. and the training of public officials. seen as the individual’s efforts for perfection in all aspects against narrow specialization. the seminal definition of classic in arts by Johann Joachim Winckelmann. and there is absolutely no reference to any writer new or old. Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy published in 1869 is the most famous modern advocacy of high culture and high humanism. 1983. aristocrats. The overall taste for classical works of literary or art was formed in 19th century through education institutions. Williams stated that the meaning of “culture” will gradually expand during a century. then to arts as a whole. Modern secondary and higher education in the West has been heavily influenced by Humbolt’s work. the abundance of people of religion. 54 . According 3 David Sorkin.THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE HUMANITIES the present understanding of the words. the poet and writer Coleridge. but focuses on a general education. p. By the end of the 19th century every European state had.

C. p. He established that the canon originated independently and separately in the Buddhist religious texts and the Torah. Gadamer succinctly wrote in Wincklemann’s time a “classic” was a normative concept. emanating from the work of Jan Assmann and Adeila Assmann. this work hereafter will be cited as TM. Reflections on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture. it denoted a specific stylistic ideal and. Beck. Taoist texts refer to those initial.Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture . ed. 1991. 2nd rev. and the canonization of Christian. tr. or canon in usual naming. Winckelmann characterized the most common and distinctive features of Greek sculpture masterpieces as “a noble simplicity and a quiet grandeur” (edle Einfalt und stille Grösse) in terms of stance and expression5. but recently they have become scientific concepts carrying both analytical and heuristic powers.New York. 8. also a time or period that fulfilled this ideal. revised by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. 87-129. 5 Gedanken über die Nachahmung der Griechischen Werke in der Mahlerey und Bildbauer-Kunst. Assmann explored the concept of canon in contrast with that of the classic. 1755 . was perhaps the greatest idea of the eighteenth century. So the normative side of the term and the historical descriptive side of the term fused. He asserted that transition from ritual coherence based on repetition to textual coher4 Hans-Georg Gadamer. even if they are unable to offer any epistemological justification of it”4 Winckelmann (1717-68) was the founder of Art History.G. the concept of classical came to be used in modern thought to describe the whole of ‘‘classical Antiquity’’ (TM 286-287). Winckelmann used “Laocoon”. According to Assmann’s analysis the canon of text. trans.. 1987. Norton . or cultivation (Bildung). and it is this concept which is the atmosphere breathed by the human sciences of the nineteenth century. a phase of historical development but not a supra-historical value”. With the rise of historical reflection in Germany that took Winckelmann’s classicism as its standard. When German humanism proclaimed the exemplarity first of Greek. original examples. is binding and official at the highest level. 2007. in the high written cultures of Mediterranean Antiquity. which became supremely important at the time. Jan Assmann’s research that developed the normative and formal structures of the classic and canon concepts in Antiquity provides important clues for the current paper6. 272-280. H. Here.-G. The concept of classic and its correlative canon do not only have a meaning within their modern literature contexts. then Roman antiquity. along with such terms as Archaic and Hellenistic by historicist scholars: “The concept of classical now signifies a period of time. in a historically descriptive way. by Elfriede Heyer and Roger C. Das kulturelle Gedächtnis: Schrift. as an example of the Greek masterpiece criteria. Open Court. He classified Greek statues as classical or archaic according to criteria that he created. Assmann. As H. known today as a sculpture from the Hellenistic era. and developed the first definition of classic in arts. Assmann explained that the canonization of the Greek classics of secular nature in Alexandria. education. Confucian. He found that these criteria featured also in the prose in the Socratic era and identified the same features in Raphael’s work. 55 . Winckelmann was the founder of modern scientific archaeology and had first applied his categories of style systematically to art history. 6 J. this was the only criteria in the field of classical art for a long while. a historical concept of a time or period detached itself from Winckelmann’s sense of the term. it was a creative anachronism transformed into a period label. Erinnerung und politische Identität in frühen Hochkulturen . Gadamer “ the concept of self-formation.Marshall .TANSU ACIK to H. Truth and Method..

the excluded is not worthless. using lightness and litotes in style. Since its emergence. Ezra Pound commented that “All criticism is an attempt to define classic”. intellectual control. poets and writers have been questioning the concept of classic. For example. To this day. containing as little local color as possible. For example. Eco in 1960 on another level. On the other hand. from the 20th century7: Paul Valery and Andre Gide are two leading modern classical authors who demonstrated their respect for classicism in their articles in newspapers. The discrimination between classic and non-classic is based on the distinctions between authority. Calvino gave fourteen definitions of classic.THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE HUMANITIES ence based on interpretation occurred in Antiquity within almost the same period. is that the criteria for determining the canon is the exclusion of other options. connectivity and measurability. 7 8 These examples are from the lemma “classicisme” . he placed tradition and the canon under the cultural memory. an ideal of impersonality. In his progressively expanding essay. trans. He stated “I only know one revelation in arts: the strictly appropriate correspondence of forms and language to substance”. 56 . Cultural memory is the all encompassing term and comprising all ramifications of Assmann’s species-genus criteria classification. The difference between classic and canon is that in the concept of classic. Disruption and not continuity caused the “ancient” to rise to the throne of unsurpassable excellence. with the identification that transcended this interruption and which considered the past as their own past and the ancient masters as their own masters. radically changed poetry and prose at the beginning of the 20th century. but through the canonization of tradition. McLaughlin. I. that disrupted tradition in a refreshing way. pioneering works in French. The past should remain in the past but not be estranged. not because of writing as a tool.Paris. He wrote “from this point of view. and undertaking a quest for balance and competence. and according to literary historians were the creators of the movement of high modernism. The feature that distinguishes tradition from canon. Assmann defines canonization as the emergence of a new teaching. M. and within the canon branch are classic and canon. journals and other publications. and the classic choice is not binding. Random House. Although he praised the classic he commented on its efforts to appear ordinary as “the art of shyness and humility”. and not as the strengthening of tradition or as the existing culture becoming sacred. Calvino Why Read the Classics. that is the deterministic nature of the boundaries of the chosen option. each deriving from the previous one. taking middle stance between a rigid and scattered approach. creating a harmony of proportions. The classic emerged through the interruption that made it impossible for the traditional to continue to exist. 1999. knowing how to replicate appropriately. This essay discusses the readeroriented literary theory data brought to the fore by U. Gide considered himself to be the best representative of the classic. Albert Camus praised the “passionate uniformity”. literature scholars usually refer to these features in their writing considering the classic style to be objective in the sense of object-orientation. These writers who produced the most advanced. I cannot love anything but classical French literature with all my heart” Italo Calvino. Encyclopaedia Universalis . closed configuration. the relationship to the ancient world was fixed. 1985 . In 1921. how classic works did not accentuate their originality. and the humbleness and timidity of classic. in his 1981 essay “Why Read the Classics?” made an assessment of readers’ attitudes toward the classics8.

with special reference to the imperial myth as it appeared to Dante and others. H. as well as the comprehensiveness of the mind of the individual poet. at the same his early writings helped to create modern literary studies as an autonomous field of inquiry and gave that discipline a certain authority. especially English literature.. “ What Is a Classic? . 1975 p. Eliot. Eliot: a literary reference to his life and work.” Twenty-seven pages of the text of his lecture are devoted to an argument designed to show that Virgil possessed these qualities.It is the importance of that civilization and of that language. 13-46. tradition and rigor.115-131. At the beginning of the text Eliot gives extensive assessments of European literature.S.” It is easier to detect that a language attained a certain level of maturity through prose rather than poetry. T. 1975. no. S. 555-579. . Frank Kermode. Together with Ezra Pound he was the founder of modern British poetry. he advocated a European wide culture and was also the leading critic of his time9.T. “Literary History. More recently Judith Perkins focusing on the underlying assumptions of Eliot treated his argumentation concerning the classical more favorably in the light of Gadamer’s guiding concepts. or according to the view of life of a particular period. He distinguishes between universal classic and the classic within a language. Selected Prose of T. in his own words “in relation to other literature in its own language. Frank Kermode seems to assume that Virgil’s importance for Eliot lay mainly in his significance as the propagator of an “imperialist myth” of Latin and Christian cultural continuity11. Russell Elliott Murphy. p. Critical companion to T. Fact on File.. which gives the universality. A classic can only occur when a civilization is mature. 10 Eliot . The Classic: Literary Images of Permanence and Change. of these what is most interesting is the criteria that he developed. Eliot. 11 Frank Kermode.S. Gadamer.S. Eliot and Modernity” New England Quarterly. In the Criterion magazine that he published between the two world wars. p. He fundamentally changed literary thinking.TANSU ACIK A Classic According to T. Eliot The poet and critic Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) belongs to the set of pioneer writers who focused on the issue of the classic in the first half of 20th century and his work is actually the most comprehensive on the subject. 2007.” He did not mean that Virgil was the greatest European poet. manners and language with a perfection of the common style to such degree that it provided us with a criterion by which to judge our living poets: a “classic can occur only when language and literature are mature. On Poetry and Poets. ed. He considers defining a classic as outside the opposition romantic-classic enumerating certain qualities that he expects a classic to display.. Kermode reminds us that Eliot’s claim for Virgil had been anticipated by Sainte-Beuve and rejected in favor of Homer by Arnold in his Oxford inaugural lecture of 1860.London: Faber & Faber. In his words “one of the signs of classic approach towards a classic style is a development towards greater complexity of sentence and period structure” He also states that manners and maturity of vision have to be expressed through language that is not rude 9 Louis Menand locates his literary criticism between the series of non-academic critics that preceded him and the New Criticism movement of academics that succeeded him: “T. and Vergilius. Harcourt.” Arethusa 14 (1981). In the address Eliot claimed that “our classic. the classic of all Europe is Virgil. 1996. Faber and Faber. 241-49. ed. S. Vol. and it must be the work of a mature mind. G. 69. in Chapter I he gives a learned account of Virgil’s influence during the middle ages. he meant that his work showed a maturity of mind. 57 . also published in the following books.4. however it is only in the last five pages that Eliot refers to Virgil’s particular relationship to the Roman Empire and to its spiritual continuation throughout European history. Faber & Faber 1956. In 1944 as President of the Virgilian Society Eliot delivered an address entitled “What Is a Classic?”10.S. 1945.

In his own words: “Development of a classic prose is the development towards a perfection of common style. immediately preceding his quote from Dante’s Purgatoria. Although this argument is historically flawed. In the same essay. He also states the irrelevance of searching for a difference in value between great works and classic works.There must be the knowledge of the history of at least one other highly civilized people.” Eliot thinks of language maturity in terms of the qualities related to conception of time such as a critical sense of the past. but the language of his time. However. In this respect. will be the language in its perfection.. he is as provincial as 19th century British writers. because they determined Europe’s fate. the criteria Eliot develops seem to be derived from Virgil’s own attributes. can never be perceived in his poems or his writings apart from his essays that directly concern religion and Christianity. and no conscious doubt of the future. Eliot. This is the only occurrence of the adjective ‘Christian’ apart from a passing remark concerning a certain English poet.” At this point. This last argument of can be seen as an example of circular reasoning. Christianity and materialism. Towards the end of the text he makes a further distinction between the relative and absolute classic: that which is a classic in relation to its language. like the common style of newspaper leader writers. a confidence in the present. Eliot implicitly makes Virgil with a sleight of hand the unconscious precursor of Christianity12. does not represent the entire European tradition. in two instances when he mentions that the Roman Empire and the Latin language are not any empire or any language.THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE HUMANITIES or rough. and the Classics” (1932). I wouldn’t mind the lack of Greek and 58 . in a period of classic prose is not a mere common convention of writing. interestingly. In his own words “Consciousness of history cannot be fully awake. Eliot comments that Virgil “must have significance for us which cannot be expressed wholly in terms of literary appreciation and criticism”. unlike Pope does not consider that 18th century English Literature qualifies as a classic. Eliot introduces another characteristic feature that the great classic poet will ultimately “express the maximum possible of the whole range of feelings which represent the character of the people who speak that language. this follows a very old tradition of seeing Virgil as an unconscious pioneer of Christianity. that there are only two tenable assumptions about life. he states that Virgil led Dante towards a vision he could never himself enjoy. may exhaust not a form only.. Eliot attributes Virgil’s uniqueness to his central place in European literature. Unfortunately Eliot does not shed further light on the idea of the universal classic but he adds that the classic becomes the new standard of quality and excellence among the literature of various languages. and of a people whose civilization is sufficiently cognate to have influenced and entered into our own”.What we find. and that which is classic in relation to a number of other languages. except when there is another history than the history of the poet’s own people. the Elizabethan period cannot be considered classic despite the existence of Shakespeare furthermore. he is a universal author in the sense that every European ought to be acquainted with him.. This is a consciousness of history that the Romans had in regard to the Greeks. where the thing to prove is used as evidence or petitio principi. he comments that “ if it wasn’t for Christianity. In Vergilius and Fate (1951) he exalts the Roman Empire and Virgil with regard to Christianity. and led Europe towards the Christian culture which he would never know.. 12 Eliot’s fervent Catholic opinions that could today appear to be zealously dogmatic. As a matter of fact. Even though he is not the greatest author he fulfils many of the criteria related to the definition of the class. Goethe for example.” In this a work maybe be called classical. Thus. He asserts in “Modern Education. but a community of taste. In the last sentence of his speech. such as Shakespeare or Milton. “The great poets. The fact that Eliot does not consider Virgil only through his literary characteristics was revealed at the end of his speech. as used by him.

however. developed a distinctive and thoroughly dialogical approach. Virgil’s text is the single example from antiquity that has been subject to continuous transmission and interpretation in Europe. Now I would like to lend my voice to Gadamer. The conversation is also a useful model for the way audiences think about art. Cambridge University Press. he considered Greek and Latin in the light of their importance in the history of English Literature and defended the necessity of their instruction for the continuity of English literature. consider that there is only one peak in a given world. He rejects subjectivism and relativism. Not only is the dialectical movement of a conversation like the hermeneutic circle. in the 1942 presidential opening speech “The Classics and the Man of Letters” presented to the Classical Association. This feature is not considered alone since Eliot introduces a Christian understanding of time. and even relating the text to the representation of a future civilization. The Example of Classical in Philosophical Hermeneutics of Gadamer Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) whose training was in classical philosophy and classical philology and who took refuge in philology in the Nazi period of the 1930s. he presented a single example. the geographical term ‘peak’ would not exist. Gadamer points to the inadequacy of the natural science model in the functioning of human sciences and in understanding art. Using an analogy with geography. even though the concept of canon had not yet been introduced in literary studies at the time he posed his question to the Virgilian Society. this aspect of his thought is revealed in an allusion in the last sentence. the name of that peak in geography would be a proper noun. 2002. which connects him to all his predecessors. because I have nothing to add to or extract from his discourse that features another operational Latin texts” On the other hand. can be seen as a drawback when looking at it through the understanding of criticism that he pioneered. His real concern is philosophic: not what we do or what we ought to do. Gadamer intended Truth and Method to be a description of what we always do when we interpret things. the work of Virgil. Gadamer compares understanding to a conversation. However. abjures any simple notion of interpretive method. There is a logical aporia in his exposition: the common name by definition should contain a cluster of entities but in his instance it has a single member. . all quotes being from TM. but what happens to us over and above our wanting and doing. thus. His major work Truth and Method is not meant to be a programmatic statement about a new ‘hermeneutic’ method of interpreting texts.the largest group interested in the Greco-Roman world at all levels. There are curious hints of Assmann’s distinctions between classic and canon. On the other hand there is indeed legitimacy through heritage behind Eliot’s reasoning. Eliot’s criteria and his judgments on comparative literature although sometimes eccentric can offer fertile clues concerning the definition of a classic work. referring to matters outside the text. not a generic name. However.TANSU ACIK The title of Eliot’s address was ‘What is a classic?’. and grounds understanding in the linguistically mediated happening of tradition13. grounded in Platonic-Aristotelian as well as Heideggerian thinking (he states that he owed everything to Heidegger). 59 . 13 The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer. but a conversation is also a fusion of horizons between oneself and someone else. fusing my horizon of interpretation with his voice in Truth and Method. to its future repercussions instead of its literary qualities.

to use a term that Gadamer borrows from Heidegger. Rather. a process of transmission which past and present are constantly mediated. as suggested above.” (TM 290-291) We might say that is exactly in the vein of the romantic hermeneutics T.. In the “Afterword” to Truth and Method that he wrote years afterwards.The theme and object of research are actually constituted by the motivation of the inquiry” (TM 284). so he is. namely: Does the kind of historical mediation between the past and the present that characterizes the classical ultimately underlie all historical activity as its effective substratum? Whereas romantic hermeneutics had taken homogeneous human nature as the unhistorical substratum of its theory of understanding and hence had freed the congenial interpreter from historical conditions.” I indicated the hermeneutic distinctions necessary for such texts. 25. 399-413.” This hardly means that what speaks in this way is measured by a supra-historical norm.” Self-understanding comes up against 14 For example Murray McGillivray adds nothing to Gadamer’s handling of the classical “Creative Anachronism: Marx’s Problem with Homer. the self-criticism of historical consciousness leads finally to recognizing historical movement not only in events but also understanding itself. And that is the problem. an originary superiority to and freedom from its origins. involving a particular “pre-understanding. pp. Gadamer’s Discussion of “The Classical” and Our Understanding of Older Literatures” New Literary History. In such cases the original question that the text is understood as answering claims an identity of meaning which has always already mediated the distance between its origin and the present. Understanding is to be thought of less as subjective than as participating in an event of tradition. In my Zurich lecture of 1969.” (TM 579) His discussion of the concept of the classical claims no independent significance. from other traditionary materials open to understanding and interpretation. S.. Eliot assumed towards classical. Gadamer says: “It is clear that the human sciences cannot be adequately described in terms of this conception of research and progress. “as if it were saying something to me in particular. No. 1994.Spring. where research penetrates more and more deeply into nature. 60 .. he states ‘It was not defining some canon of content specific to the classic that encouraged me to designate the classical as the basic category of effective history (wirkungsgeschichte). Just the reverse is true: what speaks in this way sets the standard. Gadamer attempts to demonstrate that the truths of history cannot be discerned by scientific observation because these truths are only revealed through a kind of dialogue. The dialectic of question and answer that I elaborated is not invalidated here but modified: the original question to which a text must be understood as an answer has. in the human sciences we cannot speak of an object of research in the same sense as in natural sciences. This is shown by the fact that the great achievements in human sciences almost never become outdated. The interpreter of a text from a past culture belongs to and is conditioned by his own different culture. “The Being of the Poetical. This hardly means that the “classical work” is accessible only in a hopelessly conventional way or that it encourages a reassuringly harmonious conception of the “universally human. wirkungsgeschichtliches bewusstsein (historically affected consciousness) who views the past and its remnants from a particular horizon. Obviously. 2.THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE HUMANITIES definition for “classic”14.. something “speaks” only when it speaks “originarily. Vol. Obviously the value and importance of research cannot be measured by a criterion based in the subject matter….” that is.” Rather. and particularly the eminent text. Writers on Writers . I was trying to indicate what distinguishes the work of art. but serves only to evoke a general question..

the concept of tradition.TANSU ACIK limits: the “historically affected consciousness. but these are only alienated forms of their true historical being. however. as the historical mode of thought would have us believe.” In so doing. precisely because it is more than a concept of a period or of a historical style. which links our horizon to the horizon of the text. On the contrary.” intended to illuminate the idea of “tradition. A particular stage in the historical development of humanity was thought to have produced a mature and perfect form of the human.. this concept has become quite detached from the ancient one. It is 61 . we might say that the classical is a truly historical category. allows something true (ein Wahres) come into being. What makes it possible for us to achieve understanding of the text from the past is tradition.” People inherit forms of consciousness through their education. It is for this reason that Gadamer’s example of “the classical.The classical is fundamentally something quite different from a descriptive concept used by an objectifying historical consciousness. a phase of historical development but not a supra-historical value. Since it became part of the aesthetic vocabulary of historical studies. The classical is something that resists historical criticism because its historical dominion and the binding power of the validity that is preserved and handed down precede historical reflection and continue in it…. which Gadamer is attempting to explain using this example. through constantly proving itself (Bewahrung).” (TM 286) “… Hegel systematically justified the historicization of the concept of classical. special legitimacy. Even today it is still the basis of the idea of liberal education…. is in a way. Today when we use classical as a historical stylistic concept whose clear meaning is defined by its being set against what came before and after.” is particularly valuable. and he began the process of development that finally changed the classical into a descriptive stylistic concept—one that describes the short lived harmony of measure and fullness that comes between archaic rigidity and baroque dissolution. “The concept of classical antiquity and of the classical—which dominated pedagogical thought in particular since the days of German classicism—combined both a normative and a historical side. and permits us to begin the work of understanding. Although the example of classical is not recounted with reference to concrete and specific instances. This mediation between the normative and historical senses of the concept goes back to Herder. Rather through this criticism the value judgment implicit in the concept of classical acquires a new. which if we do it properly will “fuse” our horizon to that of the past. it proved impossible (however one tried) to interpret the concept of the classical —which arose in antiquity and canonized certain writers—as if I expressed the unity of a stylistic ideal. the concept of classical retains the sense of a normative content only in an unacknowledged way.If we try to see what this implies. and yet it nevertheless does not try to be the concept of a suprahistorical value. and hesitantly again acknowledged the combination of normative and historical elements in “the classical. It is not at all the case. as a stylistic term the ancient concept was wholly ambiguous. In fact. for Gadamer tradition is our link to the past. Briefly put. that the value judgment which accords the status of classic was in fact destroyed by historical reflection and criticism of all ideological construal of the process of history.” which is “more being than consciousness. Symptomatic of renewed historical self-criticism was that after the First World War classical philology started to examine itself under the banner of a new humanism. a pivot argument in his book. the normative element in the concept of classical has never completely disappeared. The concept of classical now signifies a period of time. It does not refer to a quality that we ascribe particular historical phenomena but to a notable mode of being historical: the historical process of preservation (Bewahrung) that.

62 . Jauss argues in the explication of his fourth thesis. Vol. 99. Gadamer. there is a secondary and higher education system modeled after specialized labor force which has lost its unity and common base. pp. The aim of historical consciousness is not to use the classical model in the direct way. Rather. according to Jauss. Gadamer. are all the more relevant to this day. takes over Hegel’s classicist definition of the classical work as always immediately accessible (“that which signifies and interprets itself”) and therefore not in need of hermeneutic mediation between present and past. But understanding it will always involve more than merely historically reconstructing the past “world” to which the work belongs. instead of a sham conclusion I would like to end the paper with a few remarks. like Palladio or Corneille. fragmented. Broadly speaking. Roman and Western classics. that sometimes characterizes a work of art for its contemporaries and in which the beholder experiences a fulfilled apprehension of meaning that surpasses all conscious expectations. there is an ever growing gap between natural science. not through that shock of recognition. So the most important thing about the concept of the classical (and this is wholly true of both the ancient and the modern use of the word) is the normative sense. the responsible participation of citizens 15 I totally agree with Irmgard Wagner when he opposes Hans Robert Jauss views regarding to Gadamer’s treating the notion of classic.rather. but to know it as a historical phenomenon that can be understood solely in terms of its own time. What we call “classical” does not first require the overcoming of historical distance. humanities and social sciences. it says something to the present as if it were said specifically to it. 1173-1184. is certainly “timeless. Bymaking classicity the prototype of historical mediation.” 15 (TM 287) “…. The “classical” is something raised above the vicissitudes of changing times and changing tastes. In this context. Of course this is not to deny that works regarded as classical present tasks of historical understanding to a developed historical consciousness.” but this timelessness is a mode of historical being. This is just what the word “classical” means: that the duration of a work’s power to speak directly is fundamentally unlimited. The discussants of the concept of classic from every generation. No. furthermore it has been opening to other cultures besides Greek. December. Comparative Literature . and correlatively. Arts Liberaux et Philosophie dans la Pensee Antique . On one hand. 5. as it were. for in its own constant mediation it overcomes this distance by itself. while on the other hand. when we call something classical. then. and incoherent. 16 Ilsetraut Hadot . Paris 1984. contradicts himself. The classical. Teaching and research have become so specialized. of significance that cannot be lost and that is independent of all the circumstances of time—a kind of timeless present that is contemporaneous with every other present. the strongest option against the attacks of market in the field of education is humanistic education meaning an education on both art and ideas. that the work too belongs to our world. nourished by the traditions of great art. Liberal education. has its roots in Greco-Roman antiquity. one can be called the civic ideal. 1984. Our understanding will always retain the consciousness that we too belong to that world. by the way Jauss’ teacher was Gadamer: “Hans Robert Jauss and Classicity” Modern Language Notes. there is a consciousness of something enduring. one that is aware of historical distance. It is immediately accessible. It speaks in such a way that it is not a statement about what is past -documentary evidence that still needs to be interpreted. The above mentioned quotes show the weakness of this argument.THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE HUMANITIES a historical reality to which historical consciousness belongs and is subordinate. thought and literature. Inside the texture of this tradition two threads were identified16.” (TM 290) Since one could hardly add anything to Gadamer’s handling of the concept. which can be termed as humanistic education as well.

be it in ethics or arts. Turkey 63 . the other can be called the philosophical ideal.TANSU ACIK in the public life. Tansu Acik University of Ankara. which at the same time has got to do with perfection. both aspects persist today and they are especially relevant in the pluralist democratic society. About the Author Dr.

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