阿诺德·本涅特《经典之所以为经典》 -经典文学英译-中英双语赏析

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WHY A CLASSIC IS A CLASSIC

By Arnold Bennett

WHY A CLASSIC IS A CLASSIC, by Arnold Bennett, from his Literary Taste, How to Form It, New York, George H. Doran Company.Reprinted in Chamberlain and Bolton, Progressive Readings in Prose, pp. 37-39.

Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), English novelist, best known for his Old Wives’Tales, a realistic study of the pottery-manufacturing Staffordshire. WHY A CLASSIC IS A CLASSIC was written in 1909 and shows Mr. Bennett at his best in freeing a time-worn subject from cant phrases and wearisome formality.

The large majority of our fellow citizens care as much about literature as they care about aëroplanes or the program of the Legislature. They do not ignore it; they are not quite indifferent to it. But their interest in it is faint and perfunctory;or, if their interest happens to be violent, it is spasmodic. Ask the two hundred thousand persons whose enthusiasm made the vogue of a popular novel ten years ago what they think of that novel now, and you will gather that they have utterly forgotten it, and that they would no more dream of reading it again than of reading Bishop Stubbs’s Select Charters. Probably if they did read it again they would not enjoy it—not because the said novel is a whit worse now than it was ten years ago; not because their taste has improved—but because they have not had sufficient practice to be able to rely on their taste as a means of permanent pleasure. They simply don’t know from one day to the next what will please them.

In the face of this one may ask: Why does the great and universal fame of classical authors continue? The answer is that the fame of classical authors is entirely independent of the majority. Do you suppose that if the fame of Shakespeare depended on the man in the street it would survive a fortnight? The fame of classical authors is orginally made, and it is maintained, by a passionate few. Even when a first-class author has enjoyed immense success during his lifetime, the majority have never appreciated him so sincerely as they have appreciated second-rate men. He has always been reënforced by the ardor of the passionate few. And in the case of an author who has emerged into glory after his death, the happy sequel has been due solely to the obstinate perseverance of the few. They could not leave him alone; they would not. They kept on savoring him, and talking about him, and buying him, and they generally behaved with such eager zeal, and they were so authoritative and sure of themselves, that at last the majority grew accustomed to the sound of his name and placidly agreed to the proposition that he was a genius; the majority really did not care very much either way.

And it is by the passionate few that the renown of genius is kept alive from one generation to another. These few are always at work. They are always rediscovering genius. Their curiosity and enthusiasm are exhaustless, so that there is little chance of genius being ignored. And, moreover, they are always working either for or against the verdicts of the majority. The majority can make a reputation, but it is too careless to maintain it. If, by accident, the passionate few agree with the majority in a particular instance, they will frequently remind the majority that such and such a reputation has been made, and the majority will idly concur: “Ah, yes. By the way, we must not forget that such and such a reputation exists.” Without that persistent memory-jogging the reputation would quickly fall into the oblivion which is death. The passionate few only have their way by reason of the fact that they are genuinely interested in literature, that literature matters to them. They conquer by their obstinacy alone, by their eternal repetition of the same statements. Do you suppose they could prove to the man in the street that Shakespeare was a great artist? The said man would not even understand the terms they employed. But when he is told ten thousand times, and generation after generation, that Shakespeare was a great artist, the said man believes—not by reason, but by faith. And he, too, repeats that Shakespeare was a great artist, and he buys the complete works of Shakespeare and puts them on his shelves, and he goes to see the marvelous stage effects which accompany King Lear or Hamlet, and comes back religiously convinced that Shakespeare was a great artist. All because the passionate few could not keep their admiration of Shakespeare to themselves. This is not cynicism; but truth. And it is important that those who wish to form their literary taste should grasp it.

What causes the passionate few to make such a fuss about literature? There can be only one reply. They find a keen and lasting pleasure in literature. They enjoy literature as some men enjoy beer. The recurrence of this pleasure naturally keeps their interest in literature very much alive. They are forever making new researches, forever practicing on themselves. They learn to understand themselves. They learn to know what they want. Their taste becomes surer and surer as their experience lengthens. They do not enjoy to-day what will seem tedious to them to-morrow. When they find a book tedious, no amount of popular clatter will persuade them that it is pleasurable; and when they find it pleasurable no chill silence of the street crowds will affect their conviction that the book is good and permanent. They have faith in themselves. What are the qualities in a book which give keen and lasting pleasure to the passionate few? This is a question so difficult that it has never yet been completely answered. You may talk lightly about truth, insight, knowledge, wisdom, humor, and beauty. But these comfortable words do not really carry you very far, for each of them has to be defined, especially the first and last. It is all very well for Keats in his airy manner to assert that beauty is truth, truth beauty, and that that is all he knows or needs to know. I, for one, need to know a lot more. And I never shall know. Nobody, not even Hazlitt nor Sainte Beuve, has ever finally explained why he thought a book beautiful. I take the first fine lines that come to hand—

 

The woods of Arcady are dead,

And over is their antique joy—

 

and I say that those lines are beautiful because they give me pleasure. But why? No answer! I only know that the passionate few will broadly agree with me in deriving this mysterious pleasure from these lines. I am only convinced that the liveliness of our pleasure in those and many other lines by the same author will ultimately cause the majority to believe, by faith, that W. B. Yeats is a genius. The one reassuring aspect of the literary affair is that the passionate few are passionate about the same things. A continuance of interest does, in actual practice, lead ultimately to the same judgments. There is only the difference in width of interest. Some of the passionate few lack catholicity, or, rather, the whole of their interest is confined to one narrow channel; they have none left over. These men help specially to vitalize the reputations of the narrower geniuses, such as Crashaw. But their active predilections never contradict the general verdict of the passionate few; rather they reënforce it.

A classic is a work which gives pleasure to the minority which is intensely and permanently interested in literature. It lives on because the minority, eager to renew the sensation of pleasure, is eternally curious and is therefore engaged in an eternal process of rediscovery. A classic does not survive for any ethical reason. It does not survive because it conforms to certain canons, or because neglect would not kill it. It survives because it is a source of pleasure, and because the passionate few can no more neglect it than a bee can neglect a flower. The passionate few do not read “the right things” because they are right. That is to put the cart before the horse.“The right things” are the right things solely because the passionate few like reading them. Hence—and I now arrive at my point—the one primary essential to literary taste is a hot interest in literature. If you have that, all the rest will come. It matters nothing that at present you fail to find pleasure in certain classics. The driving impulse of your interest will force you to acquire experience, and experience will teach you the use of the means of pleasure. You do not know the secret ways of yourself: that is all. A continuance of interest must inevitably bring you to the keenest joys. But, of course, experience may be acquired judiciously or injudiciously, just as Putney may be reached via Walham Green or via St.Petersburg.

Notes

perfunctory, done merely as a duty; performed mechanically and as a thing of rote or carelessly and superficially; marked by indifference.

spasmodic, acting or proceeding fitfully or intermittently; lacking continuity of effort, production.

Bishop Stubbs’s “Select Charters.” William Stubbs (1825-1901), English bishop and historian, professor of modern history at Oxford, 1866-1884. His most famous work is his Constitutional History of England(1874-1878).

whit, bit, iota.

classical authors, writers of the first rank, especially in literature and art, classical because their works have become classics.

Shakespeare, William (1564-1616), the greatest of the English poets and dramatists.

sequel, that which follows, continuation; hence, consequence, effect, result.

savoring, tasting, relishing.

placidly, calmly, quietly.

memory-jogging, calling to mind; reminding.

stage effects, stage sceneries and tricks intended to produce certain impressions.

“King Lear” or “Hamlet,  both plays by Shakespeare, both tragedies.

cynicism, sneering at goodness and given to tearing off the veil from human weakness; mental state, opinion, or conduct of a person who believes that human conduct is directed, either consciously or unconsciously, wholly by self-interest or serf-indulgence.

tedious, tiresomely long and slow and dull.

popular clatter, noisy talk of the multitude.

Keats, John (1795-1821), English romantic poet.

airy manner, loose irresponsible way; reasoning in a superficial way.

beauty is truth, truth beauty, from Keats’s “Ode to the Grecian Urn” (1820) 11, 49-50.

Hazlitt, William (1778-1830), English critic and miscellaneous writer.

Sainte Beuve, Charles Augustin (1804-1869), French literary critic.

The woods of Arcady are dead, And over is their antique joy—These are the opening lines of “The Song of the Happy Shepherd” by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), Irish poet and author.

The woods of Arcady. Arcady is another spelling for Arcadia, a Utopia of poetical simplicity and innocence, named after a pastoral and mountainous district of the Peloponnesus, in Greece, a district fabled to be the idyllic. By the four words “The woods of Arcady” is meant poetry and poetic inspiration, because within the forests of Arcadia is to be had such inspiration.

their antique joy, the happiness which they (the woods of Arcady) experienced in olden times. Yeats is lamenting the dearth, the lack, of good poetry to-day; he even claims that people do not derive any happiness from poetry any more.

catholicity, liberality and universality of sentiment.

one narrow channel, a passage that is not wide; hence, a mind or disposition that is not broad, that confines itself to very narrow interests.

vitalize, endow with life or vitality; give life to.

Crashaw, Richard (1613? -1649), English poet.

predilections, previous likings.

put the cart before the horse, do things in the reverse order; take effect for cause.

hot interest, ardent, strong interest.

judiciously, sensibly, prudently.

Putney, a parish of Wandsworth borough, in the environs of London, England.

Walham Green, in Fulham, north of Putney and across the river Thames, on the direct route from the heart of London to Putney.

St. Petersburg, the name of the capital of Russia in the Czarist days, now changed to Leningrad. To take the direct route from London via Walham Green to Putney would be to take the judicious way, the sensible thing to do; to go to Putney from the heart of London by way of St. Petersburg would be to take a most roundabout way, a most injudicious way, not the sensible thing to do. Experience may be acquired judiciously or injudiciously.

Questions

  1. How much do most people care about literature?
  2. By whom is the fame of classical authors made and maintained?
  3. How do the “passionate few” keep the renown of genius alive from generation to generation?
  4. Why is this minority so occupied with literature?
  5. What is a classic?
  6. What is the one primary essential to literary taste?

参考译文

【作品简介】

《经典之所以为经典》一文选自阿诺德·本涅特所著《文学品位之修养》,纽约乔治·H.多兰公司出版。后收入钱伯伦及博尔顿编写的《散文进阶读本》,37—39页。

【作者简介】

阿诺德·本涅特(1867—1931),英国小说家,最为人们知晓的作品是《老妇人的故事》,该作品是对制造陶器的斯塔福德郡的现实刻画。《经典之所以为经典》写于1909年,展示了本涅特将一个“旧题”从套话和令人厌倦的写作程式中解放出来的最高艺术。

经典之所以为经典

我们大部分民众对文学的关心程度犹如他们对飞机或立法的态度,不忽视也不十分漠视。但他们对文学的兴趣却是微不足道且敷衍了事的,即使这种兴趣可能会十分强烈,但也只是一时兴起。在二十万人中做个调查,十年前他们的热情曾使一部小说盛行一时,现今,当问及他们对那部小说的印象时,你会发现他们已经将其彻底遗忘,而且他们宁可阅读斯塔布斯主教的《宪章精选》,也不会想起再次阅读那本小说。即使他们开卷重阅,也可能不会乐在其中了——并不是因为这本小说的可读性不如十年前,也不是因为人们的鉴赏力有所精进——而是因为人们没有足够的实践来依赖自己的品位获取持久的快乐。连他们自己也不知道,明天将有什么带给他们快乐。

面对这个问题,有人可能会问:经典作家享有的那伟大而普世的声誉为何能够延续?答案在于:经典作家的声誉独立于大众读者而存在。试想一下,如果莎士比亚的声誉仅仅依靠大街上的普通民众来维持,你能指望这种声誉持续多久呢?经典作家的声望,源起并维系于少数对他们情有独钟的读者。有时某位一流作家在其一生中获得了巨大成功,然而,人们对他表现出的真诚欣赏可能还不及对某个二流作家。他的声誉得以巩固是因那些热情的少数读者。而有些作家在其死后才被冠以荣誉,这样乐观的结果也仅仅是因为少数人的坚持不懈。这类少数人无法也永不会将他们的“偶像”遗忘,而是继续讨论他,品味他,购买他的经典作品,表现得极其热衷。他们相信自己的权威判断并充满自信,最终,其他大多数人也耳濡目染,都对这位作家的名字耳熟能详,进而自然地认可其文学天赋。其实,大部分人并不真正在乎其是否为经典。

正因为少数人对文学的执着和热情,文学巨匠的声誉才得以代代相传。这些少数人孜孜不倦,凭借着浓重的好奇心和无限的热情,不断地挖掘天才,极少使得文学巨匠遭到埋没。而且,这些少数人总是在支持或反对大众的观点。大众可以制造声望,但却无心将其维持下去。倘若在某特定情形下,少数人与大众的观点达成一致,他们也会不断地提醒大众,某种声誉已经建立。而大众也会敷衍地同意道:“哦,是的。顺便说一下啊,我们绝不能忘了某某声誉存在着。”若没有少数人持久的记忆,经典作家的声望就会迅速埋没殆尽。这些少数人坚信自己对文学的热情,以及文学对于他们的重要性。他们仅凭自身的坚持和反复强调同一个观点来征服大部分人。你想象过这么一幅场景吗?这些少数人走向大街向平民证明莎士比亚是一位伟大的文学艺术家。而平民甚至都无法理解这些少数人使用的言辞术语。但是,如果继续口口相传、代代因袭,那么这些平民就会认可莎士比亚是个伟大的文学艺术家,这种认可并非源于理性,而是出自信仰。而且,他还会重复前人的观点,认为莎士比亚是一位伟大的文学艺术家,会购买莎士比亚的文学作品,放到家里的书架上,也会去剧院欣赏《李尔王》或《哈姆雷特》的舞台剧,然后笃定莎士比亚就是一位文学大师。所有这些的发生只是因为那些少数人不愿将对莎士比亚的膜拜局限于自身。这并非愤世嫉俗,而是实事求是。而且,对于那些想塑造自己文学品位的人而言,明白这一点极为重要。

是什么让这些狂热的少数人对文学如此热衷?答案只有一个:他们能从文学中获得强烈而持久的乐趣。他们痴迷于文学,就像有些人沉醉于啤酒。这种乐趣的反复重现自然而然地维系着他们对于文学的热情。他们总是孜孜不倦地开展新研究,并身体力行去展开实践。他们学着理解自我,明确自己真正想要什么。随着经验的增长,他们对文学的鉴赏越发可靠。他们不会去欣赏一部未来可能使他们感到无趣的作品。当他们发现一本书索然无味时,任何舆论的喧嚣都不能使他们认为此书富有一丝乐趣。相反,当他们发觉那本书趣味盎然时,任何来自众人的冷漠都无法改变他们对此书的永久认可。他们对自己的鉴赏力充满了信心。什么样的文学作品会为少数人带来那强烈而持久的乐趣呢?这个问题难以回答,到现在都没人能给出确切的答案。你可能会轻率地认为应该是作品中的真理、洞见、智慧、幽默和美感。但是这些美辞并不能使你体会到那种乐趣,因为每个词都需要有确切的含义,尤其是何为“真理”,何为“美感”。不错,济慈用他轻快的文风证明了真理即是美感,美感即是真理,而这也正是他所了解或需要了解的全部。但对我而言,我需要了解更多。即便如此,我也很难真正理解它们的含义。任何人,包括黑兹利特和圣伯夫,到最后都没能解释为什么一本文学作品可以被称优美。我手头有两句文学作品中的诗句——

 

阿卡狄的森林已然死亡,

它们那古朴的欢乐也已结束。[1]

 

我认为这两句诗十分优美,因为它们让我心情愉悦。但为什么会这样?没有答案。我只知道,那些痴迷于文学作品的少数人大体上能与我达成共识,他们能从这些诗行中获得神秘的快乐。我们从同一个作家的这些诗行和其他诗行中体会到的快乐,会使得大众坚信威廉·巴特勒·叶芝是一个文学巨匠,对此我深信不疑。令人欣慰的是,这些少数文学爱好者所表现出来的志趣始终如一。在实践中,坚持一类兴趣的可以最终形成具有共性的观点,不同的只是兴趣的广度。这些少数人中,有些人的兴趣由于缺乏广泛性,常常局限于某一狭窄领域内,从而所剩寥寥。因此他们对作家声誉的促进作用也仅能作用于更有局限性的作家,如克拉肖。但是,这些人的文学偏好并不会和其他少数文学爱好者的文学主张相违背,相反,是对他们文学主张的巩固。

所谓经典著作,就是那些作品,它们能够给那些对文学表现出持久且浓厚兴趣的少数人带来快乐的作品。这种快乐感之所以存在,是因为这类少数人愿意体验新的快感,于是怀揣一颗永无止境的好奇心,投入于永不止步的再发现当中。成就一部经典之作并不倚仗于伦理道德。经典作品能够流芳百世,并不是因为其遵循了某套标准,也不是因为其备受关注而免受疏忽,而是因为经典作品是快乐的源泉。狂热的少数人绝不会对经典视而不见,就像蜜蜂绝不会对花朵视而不见一样。这类少数人不会因为作品内容是正确的就去阅读它们,换句话说不会犯本末倒置的错误。中意的作品之所以中意仅仅因为它们为少数人所阅读,这些人是因为的确喜爱文学,而去阅读经典的文学作品。因此,我的观点是:文学品位的一个基本要素就是对文学的极度热爱。你做到了这一点,那剩下的则是水到渠成。目前,你没有在某些经典文学作品中获得快乐,这并无大碍。你对文学的兴趣,会驱使你获得更多经验。这些经验会教你运用快乐的方法,那就是你本人也不知道的快乐秘诀,仅此而已。持久的兴趣一定会带给你强烈的快乐感。但是,经验的获得既可能是明晰顺理,也可能无章可循,就如同去帕特尼,既可以经由沃尔瑟姆·格林,也可以经由圣彼得堡一样。

 

(罗选民 译)

 

[1]这两句为叶芝的《快乐的牧人之歌》一诗的开篇。此处引用傅浩译文。

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