“One of the most rigorously presented and beautifully illustrated critical testaments in all of literature.”—Boston Globe
“A brilliant, original approach to literature, a key to Calvino’s own work and a thoroughly delightful and illuminating commentary on some of the world’s greatest writing.”—San Francisco Chronicle
At the time of his death, Italo Calvino was at work on six lectures setting forth the qualities in writing he most valued, and which he believed would define literature in the century to come. Here, in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, are the five lectures he completed, forming not only a stirring defense of literature, but also an indispensable guide to the writings of Calvino himself. He devotes one “memo” each to the concepts of lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity, drawing examples from his vast knowledge of myth, folklore, and works both ancient and modern. Readers will be astonished by the prescience of these lectures, which have only gained in relevance as Calvino’s “next millennium” has dawned.
When Calvino (If on a Winter's Night a Traveler) died unexpectedly in 1985, he was an internationally known storyteller and arguably Italy's most celebrated author. These five erudite essays, originally intended for the Charles Eliot Norton Poetry Lectures at Harvard, compose his final work. Calvino considers literary values that he sought in his own writing and ideas he wanted to convey to 21st-century writers. The essays explore, respectively, the themes of lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity. As Calvino's chosen title for the collection indicates, he planned to write a final essay on consistency but never did. "Literature can survive only by pursuing outsized goals, even those beyond all hope of achievement," Calvino declares. He asserts his fondness for concise short-form writing that concentrates the imagination. Praising literary design that features clear, sharp images and precisely chosen words, he warns that an image-saturated world in the future could inhibit inner vision. Calvino's lyrical essays move in so many directions, with such intellectual acuity, that they are often hard to keep up with. Brock contributes an able new translation, intended to correct errors in an earlier English-language version.