There were years when I went to the movies almost every day, around the time of my adolescence. Those were years in which cinema was my world. It satisfied a need for disorientation, for shifting my attention to another place, and I believe it’s a need that corresponds to a primary function of integration in the world, an essential phase in any kind of development.
A man on the beach at Capua observes the sunset, not for artistic or poetic inspiration but for a scientific purpose: he wants to measure the velocity of the sun. However, he doesn’t have measuring instruments of any kind: he has only a system for establishing certain units of time, …
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: 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.
The following was given as the James Lecture, presented at the New York Institute for the Humanities on March 30. When I’m asked for a lecture, not about a particular subject but one that would leave me free to choose what to speak about, I feel rather at a loss.