How does a book become a classic?

  • Startled by my wrong classification of Lenz's German lesson, I have been asking myself exactly that for days: "What is a classic?"
    Is it all that has not appeared in the last few years and is still somehow known?
    Or is it the works that are ennobled because they are mentioned in a canon, have become school reading?
    Or is there even a time cut?

    Without much thought, classics for me were Goethe, Schiller and comrades. Hesse just not anymore. But I could never justify that.
    Here in the forum it now seems that the post-war authors, Grass, Lenz, Böll, etc. belong to it. I understand the thought behind it well, only my feeling doesn't really work. I also assume that there is no fixed rule here as to which book belongs in which category?
    I would like to read from others how they make this distinction for themselves.

    After a little thought, it seems to crystallize for me: Authors who produced until the beginning of the Hitler era.
    Am curious
    Klaus

  • Hmmm ... interesting question.

    I don't think that only the above-mentioned Goethe, Schiller, etc. belong to the classics. We also find these in completely different categories, such as "Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell.

    In my opinion, classics are created through a high level of awareness, through use as school reading and which do not lose their appeal for the public over the years and decades.

    A good crime thriller is far from being a classic. Something like "It happened in broad daylight" has to come. Again, this is a classic.

    I can't really justify it either. But here more users will certainly have opinions on it.

    best regards
    Poker face

    Do it or don't do it. There's no trying (Yoda)

  • A really interesting question about which I have often thought about and which I have not really come to a conclusion. I think the definition also depends on the framework in which you move. In the scientific environment I could imagine that a "classic" must actually already be canonized and that this happens because of its ability to represent a genre or something similar. In other words, a text that has all the "classic" features is counted as such - such as Schiller's "Die Räuber" is typical of Sturm und Drang and is therefore a classic.
    In everyday use, the term dilutes a bit and, depending on the argument, I can understand that. If a text (or film, etc.) deals with topics that have always been and probably will always remain topical (love, death, something like that), and also meet a certain narrative claim, there is also a chance that at some point they will be incorporated into a canon. And even if a non-canonized text (who actually canonized? And when does that happen? 50 years later?) Is called a classic, perhaps when it has a large reach and is known to many. At least that's how I would interpret it.
    And here in the forum I am always very happy with texts that are borderline for me if there is already a thread on it and I don't have to classify it

    If we don't get lost occasionally, then we haven't moved enough.
    Florian Illies

    My blog

  • I would also use an intersection of meaning and age for the definition. Meaning could also be replaced by degree of awareness.
    "Meaning" can also be interpreted in such and such a way, I would say that a certain "nutritional value" for society or the individual must exist / have existed.
    I'll take a closer look by listing examples:
    Gabriele Tergit - Käsebier conquers the Kufürstendamm: Weimar Republic, therefore older, not very well known, but classic.
    Birgit Vanderbeke - Eating mussels: Meanwhile, school reading, relatively well-known, but not yet a classic, because too "young".
    Ganghofer: Well known, old, classic.

  • The more I think about it, the harder I find it to be. E.g .: must the text also have been popular in its time? As in music, is there perhaps a time called classical?
    The question of who canonized that I would have liked to answer, because I have asked myself that many times.
    In music it is also the case that certain stylistic elements have to be fulfilled.
    Somehow quality always resonates with me, but is that correct? Can there be miserable classics?
    In films, the word "cult" seems to imply something similar.
    The feeling that the "German lesson" is not a classic for me solidifies when I think about it. At Ganghofer something is fighting me. Anything, I don't know.

  • That is probably a question that everyone has to answer for themselves. Just like the question of which books one should know or have read? Or the question, what actually is world literature? All questions that you can answer for yourself and will likely get a wide variety of answers if you ask them. Seen very closely, classical literature is that which arose at the time of Goethe and Schiller. One speaks of the literary epoch of the Weimar Classic. What is read beyond that, in schools, you should perhaps have heard, is not necessarily classical now.

    For me, cult is a term for "dusty, not a bringer, but unfortunately not to be killed either".

    But if you include quality, you run into walls. What use are linguistic formulations that sound beautiful if they can no longer be understood today without interpretation aid? And is, for example, "Romeo and Juliet" really that great, or just a love story according to the scheme?

    The questions are interesting. Unfortunately difficult. And honestly, the more I think about it, the fewer answers I have.

  • The questions are interesting. Unfortunately difficult.

    Only difficult questions are interesting I think;)

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    Difficult question, many approaches - and there will probably be 1000 different answers.

    must the text also have been popular in its time?

    I answer this question flatly in the negative - many sizes that we now consider classics were certainly not popular in their time. I'm not a literary expert or Germanist, so everyone is welcome to correct me, but if I remember correctly, Kleist, for example, was not popular in his time and Schiller probably had his problems too. and there are certainly plenty of other examples of this.

    Can there be miserable classics?

    Yes, because that is up to the reader - if you read through various review threads here, you will see again and again how differently we read, absorb, interpret, perceive and then classify books as "excellent, good, average, miserable "catastrophic". It doesn't matter whether we're talking about contemporary novels or classics - the reader decides for himself whether a book is good or bad for him personally.

    Seen very closely, classical literature is that which arose at the time of Goethe and Schiller. One speaks of the literary epoch of the Weimar Classic.

    An epoch does not yet make classical literature, I have to contradict you. In my opinion, the classics include much more than just the works of the Weimar Classic.

    I've read a lot of good thoughts here - e.g. @Caracolita's approach that the frame plays a role - but time also plays a decisive role for me. Nobody would have counted Goethe's Kleist among the classics during his lifetime (if such a classification was made at that time). In the time of the Weimar Republic, nobody would necessarily have included Gerhard Hauptmann or Gottfried Benn, but we do that today too.
    So if you, @Klaus V., do not perceive the "German lesson" as a classic, it may very well have something to do with the fact that this book was written in a time that is still tangible for you personally, belongs to the recent past (for me, too). But for someone who is 30 years younger than us, the time the book was written is already in the past and so the perception will be completely different for that person.

    Whether we consider books that are "only" 50-60 years old to be classics is, for me, a very personal assessment. In 100 years they will definitely be.

    many greetings from the Squirrel

    Helen Keller - Teacher MLR

    Amos Oz - Judas

    Christoph Ransmayr - The horrors of ice and darkness MLR

  • That's a nice question that I've never thought through. Somewhere in my back room I noticed that there is a narrower definition, just like findo meant. At Wikipedia there is this suggestion, which is plausible for me:

    • long supra-regional awareness (often also across generations)
    • certain traditional value
    • high recognition value
    • high quality is granted
    • Innovation potential
    • Influence on culture
    • for texts: timelessness of the topics, for example love, hate & anger, family, adventure, resistance & adaptation

    Not all features have to apply to every classic.

    Jakob Hein hypochondriacs live longer

    Thomas Glavinic- The Greater Miracle

    No two persons ever read the same book (Edmund Wilson)

  • The question of who actually canonized

    Mmh, actually the German faculties of the universities when they create reading lists. At least I always had that impression during my studies. And I wouldn't agree to every assignment either.

    Can there be miserable classics?

    In the sense of "So bad that it'll be fine again" ("Attack of the killer tomatoes"), certainly. Sometimes a book can contain important things that change the time or reflect it particularly well - but it is simply poorly written, but has no contemporary competition on the subject. But that is certainly also a matter of taste.

    One problem that I occasionally have with more modern classics - no, actually more often - is that they appear as if they were written Germanists so that other Germanists can talk and write about them. Occasionally it looks like it has been written according to a recipe, and after an extensive study of literature in two languages ​​(and English is now written in many cultures) and years of teaching myself, it bears me out.

    Regarding the cult question: I would rather say no. A cult around certain things is often made by narrowly defined groupings (even if the term itself is used infinitely and often incorrectly nowadays. Mostly to hype a product before anyone has actually noticed it.

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    A problem that I occasionally have with more modern classics - no, actually more often - is that they appear as if they have written Germanists so that other Germanists can talk and write about them. Occasionally it looks like it has been written according to a recipe and after an extensive study of literature in two languages ​​(and English is now written in many cultures) and years of teaching myself it bears me out.

    Do you have an example of this? I often have the problem that I find (highly praised or award-winning) books by German-language authors to be extremely artificial, following the motto "look here, I know the German language, now praise me for it" - they can only write interestingly Not. The most recent example of this is Kirchhoff's "experience".

    many greetings from the Squirrel

    Helen Keller - Teacher MLR

    Amos Oz - Judas

    Christoph Ransmayr - The horrors of ice and darkness MLR

  • At Ganghofer something is fighting me. Anything, I don't know.

    Me too.
    If I had to list classics, it would never occur to me to name Ganghofer.
    There were very few books in my family (by that I mean my parents and grandparents). And Ludwig Ganghofer was one of them, which is why I've probably already read Ganghofer. But I cannot remember the title or content of a book, which is not surprising after about 50 years.

    For me, classics are also books that are not yet 50 years old, e.g. Böll's Katharina Blum. But I cannot precisely name the criteria by which I designate classics as such. For me this is more of an intuitive classification. That is why it is very interesting which criteria other book hits apply in order to call a book a classic.

    The invention of the printing press is the greatest event in world history (Victor Hugo).

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    A very interesting question that I have to think about first.

    In my opinion, classics are created through a high level of awareness,