Six Memos for the Next Millennium

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Harvard University Press, 1988 - Literary Criticism - 124 pages
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Italo Calvino, one of the world's best storytellers, died on the eve of his departure for Harvard, where he was to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in 1985-86. Reticent by nature, he was always reluctant to talk about himself, but he welcomed the opportunity to talk about the making of literature. In the process of devising his lectures--his wife recalls that they were an "obsession" for the last year of his life--he could not avoid mention of his own work, his methods, intentions, and hopes. This book, then, is Calvino's legacy to us: those universal values he pinpoints for future generations to cherish become the watchword for our appreciation of Calvino himself.

What about writing should be cherished? Calvino, in a wonderfully simple scheme, devotes one lecture (a memo for his reader) to each of five indispensable literary values. First there is "lightness" (leggerezza), and Calvino cites Lucretius, Ovid, Boccaccio, Cavalcanti, Leopardi, and Kundera--among others, as always--to show what he means: the gravity of existence has to be borne lightly if it is to be borne at all. There must be "quickness," a deftness in combining action (Mercury) with contemplation (Saturn). Next is "exactitude," precision and clarity of language. The fourth lecture is on "visibility," the visual imagination as an instrument for knowing the world and oneself. Then there is a tour de force on "multiplicity," where Calvino brilliantly describes the eccentrics of literature (Elaubert, Gadda, Musil, Perec, himself) and their attempt to convey the painful but exhilarating infinitude of possibilities open to humankind.

The sixth and final lecture - worked out but unwritten - was to be called "Consistency." Perhaps surprised at first, we are left to ponder how Calvino would have made that statement, and, as always with him, the pondering leads to more. With this book Calvino gives us the most eloquent, least defensive "defense of literature" scripted in our century - a fitting gift for the next millennium.

Esther Calvino has supervised the preparation of this book. She is Italo Calvino's Argentinian-born wife and a translator for several international organizations. Among Calvino's best-known works of fiction are Invisible Cities, Cosmicomics, The Baron in the Trees, if on a winter's night a traveler, and Mr. Palomar.

 

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SIX MEMOS FOR THE NEXT MILLENNIUM

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

The 1985-86 Norton Lectures were Calvino's to deliver; the day before he was to leave Italy for Cambridge, he died. But the essays (though the sixth "memo" was never written down) were substantially ... Read full review

Six memos for the next millennium

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Calvino died just before he was to deliver these lectures. They focus on "things that only literature can give us,'' on "certain qualities, or peculiarities of literature that are very close to my ... Read full review

Contents

LIGHTNESS
3
QUICKNESS
31
EXACTITUDE
55
VISIBILITY
81
MULTIPLICITY
101
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About the author (1988)

Italo Calvino 1923-1984 Novelist and short story writer Italo Calvino was born in Cuba on October 15, 1923, and grew up in Italy, graduating from the University of Turin in 1947. He is remembered for his distinctive style of fables. Much of his first work was political, including Il Sentiero dei Nidi di Ragno (The Path of the Nest Spiders, 1947), considered one of the main novels of neorealism. In the 1950s, Calvino began to explore fantasy and myth as extensions of realism. Il Visconte Dimezzato (The Cloven Knight, 1952), concerns a knight split in two in combat who continues to live on as two separates, one good and one bad, deprived of the link which made them a moral whole. In Il Barone Rampante (Baron in the Trees, 1957), a boy takes to the trees to avoid eating snail soup and lives an entire, fulfilled life without ever coming back down. Calvino was awarded an honorary degree from Mount Holyoke College in 1984 and died in 1985, following a cerebral hemorrhage. At the time of his death, he was the most translated contemporary Italian writer and a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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