I don’t actually lose sleep calculating whether today’s award-winning books are as “great” as the greats of yesteryear (terrible failure in a critic, I know). It’s an easy argument, because everyone can think of at least one instance where it’s true. Also, many of the lousy books of yesteryear are out of print, leaving us with a, shall we say, distorted perception of the cumulative literary output. I can imagine ancient Egyptian critics of the Middle Kingdom poring over papyri and sniffing that the hieroglyphics are derivative and uninspired.
Quite so. I think that the only way to know if a writer can be considered a ‘great’ is to wait a few decades or, better yet, coupla hundred years. In the meantime, all we are left with are our own preferences and opinion (eg, ‘I think So-and-so is great’), but these are all that matters anyway.
…it having been decided by the University of Coimbra that burning a few people alive by a slow fire, and with great ceremony, is an infallible secret for preventing earthquakes.
Candide, page 28.
This sentence is referring to the earthquake in Lisbon which occurs in Voltaire’s satire (it was also a real event). As it is a satire, I can see it being funny on purpose; however this was written in the 1700s so I can’t tell if Voltaire is being serious or is poking fun… Nonetheless this amused me!
Heh. Whenever there’s any doubt as to whether Voltaire is poking fun, it can be safely assumed he is. I should really re-read Candide one of these days… (My favourite joke is still the one where he refers to Canada as ‘a few acres of snow’).