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Michel Zink

Books from the Past, Readings for Today

Michel Zink, a specialist in medieval literature, is a professor at the Collège de France and a member of the Institut de France.
Contributors to this volume: G. Angeli, A.M. Babbi, Y. Bonnefoy, J. Cerquiglini-Toulet, A. Compagnon, C. Galderisi, D. Heller-Roazen, P. Labarthe, M. Mancini, E. Mochonkina, P. Oster-Stierle, K. Stierle, H. Tétrel, J.C. Vegliante, H. Weinrich.

“When you read an ancient text — which is what you do whenever you read anything besides today’s paper or the latest bestseller — a distancing effect is created which suffices to transform the text, regardless of its nature, into literature. It is this distancing effect that is primarily responsible for making literature a temporal experience and one that tears readers away from themselves — and gives them greater self-knowledge. The older the text, the greater the reader’s surprise and joy at feeling moved by it and in harmony with it. And should the text communicate something to us, then we feel positively ecstatic.
“There are no cultures in the world which do not possess a literary heritage rooted in poems, legends, narratives and myths that have supposedly been handed down from time immemorial. Made up of classics, this heritage is described by a literary canon that, by definition, includes only texts that are already old. In other words, what defines literature is the distance created by the age of the text. And because ancient texts are difficult, this distance must be borne — but it can also be savoured.” Michel Zinc