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Literature and the Gods Paperback – June 4, 2002

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"One way or another, the world will go on being the place of epiphanies," says literary theorist Calasso (Ka; The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony) in this impressive, weighty and succinct work based on his Weidenfeld Lectures at Oxford last year. Calasso argues that literary texts have always had a religious dimension, whether overtly (as in Homer) or covertly (as in Borges). In the modern era, pre-Christian deities, though often seen as "fugitive guests of literature," have weighed in heavily, asserts Calasso. He elucidates their none-too-obvious influence in a variety of works, both Western and non-Western, from Vedic verse ("the first example of the worship of form") and the Romantic prose of Nietzsche, to the modern poetry of Mallarm? and even the postmodern prose of Nabokov. Calasso sees the 19th century as "the heroic age of absolute literature," which embodies "a knowledge that one assimilates while in search of an absolute, and that thus draws in no less than everything... unbound, freed from any... social utility." Married to certain aesthetics, specifically from German Romanticism through Symbolism, he dismisses much 20th-century poetic experimentalism "embarrassingly labeled as 'modernism' or 'the avant-garde' " for its "aggressive, disruptive forms." Regardless of literary preference, his gorgeous, vivid turns of phrase are a pleasure, and Parks's translation retains Calasso's grace and poise, doing justice to his lovely metaphors ("literature can become an effective stratagem for sneaking the gods out of the universal clinic and getting them back into the world, scattered across its surface where they have always dwelt"). Scholars and general readers of world literature and religion will enjoy this rich, poetic contribution to literary theory, and to poetics in particular. (Mar. 21)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Anyone who has read Ka or The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony knows that one cannot speed-read Calasso. Like all his other works, this latest by the Italian historian and publisher, based on his Weidenfeld Lectures of May 2000 at Oxford, speaks to an erudite audience. It is not for the easily daunted; to appreciate it, one must know Baudelaire, Nietzsche, H lderlin, Lautr amont, Mallarm , and several other important writers and be acquainted with Greco-Roman and Vedic myth. This is not really prose but rather edited oratory, and it comes across that way; you must listen to it more than read it. If you do and put what you hear in the context of 19th- and 20th-century European history and culture, you will understand that the ancient Gods are no longer dead but were reborn to live in our novels and poetry. Here Calasso describes how that came about. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries. James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (June 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375725431
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375725432
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #654,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This relatively short book is actually 8 lectures Roberto Calasso delivered at Yale in 2000. I found Calasso's book The Marraige of Cadmus and Harmony to be exceptional. I found two others; The Ruin of Kasch and Ka to be more difficult. These lectures are not as accessible as The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony but neither are they as difficult as Ka, with it's convoluted explanations of Hinduism.

Calasso sees the gods as the energy behind creative thought and thus only a few lucky individuals, with blank brains, are visited by the gods. The human mind is not strong enough to bear the full revelation, but we are able to briefly receive the images offered to us by the gods and struggle to give them shape.

Calasso seems to think that contemporary thought has diminished the god's powers. Yet he knows they are still among us, and have even been joined by a vast herd of Eastern dieties, ready to invade the European mind.

Calasso refutes Voltaire's assertion that the gods are only fables designed by the power hungry priestly class to control the masses. Calasso sees myths as archtypes, patterns, that reveal themselves to men rather than as imply stories invented by men. With sadness, he points out that for a period of 400 years they remained alive mainly in the paintings of Boticelli, Rembrandt, Poussin, and Tiepolo.

The gods not only permeate the arts, Calasso points out that it is myth that holds a people together in community. This attests to myths enduring power over us as a society.

As Nymphs, the gods survived in the visual arts and emerge in such modern masterpieces as Nabokov's Lolita.

Calasso discussed Nietzsche's phenomenological concept that the sciences, and all forms of knowledge, are models of reality, are simulations.
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Format: Hardcover
Calasso is not an easy author to engage. Simply put, he makes little to no apologies from those that are not as well read he is, and does not waste time trying to have others catch up.
However, in this he is like the college professor who challenges his pupils, offering incredible insight to those who want to educate themselves. In this book, he attempts to connect the old gods, and the very idea of pagan divinity, to the literature of the modern age. His goal is to show us that these concrete expressions of divinity make their way into literature because they are what give literature a spark of the mysterious and divine.
In all honesty, it is hard to tell whether he accomplishes his goal, precisely because I am not up to par with his knowledge. At the same time, like a good professor he stuns me with his eloquence, so much so that I WANT to go and educate myself, to bone up on my literature and return to his lectures.
To any who love learning, I recommend this and Calasso's other books. He has a gift for recognizing and conveying the passion of writers and philosophers.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I decided to add a review because I was not only impressed with how erudite Calasso is, but I was also inspired by his rich approach to literature and the complex understanding he sheds on the wellspring of literature. After reading C. Collins review and the other two reviews, I realized no more needed to be said. I agreed with them all. Allow yourself the luxury of reading this challenging yet nourishing book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm going to need to reread this book several times. Ridiculously deep and beautiful. And I will never read the literature the same way again. This book is amazing.
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