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Six Memos for the Next Millennium Hardcover – January 1, 1988
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Italo Calvino cast his lofty thoughts toward the pending millennium long before the rest of us. Now that the zeitgeist has caught up with him, it seems a good time to revisit his Six Memos for the Next Millennium, an investigation into the literary values that he wished to bequeath to future generations. Calvino, the author of Invisible Cities, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, and other postmodern fictional works, was to deliver these five "memos" (there was to be a sixth) as Harvard's Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in 1985-86, but he died before doing so. These lectures are dense, rigorous, and seemingly full of contradiction. The first is a paean to lightness (though "light like a bird," as Paul Valéry wrote, "and not like a feather"). Lightness is followed by quickness (without "presum[ing] to deny the pleasures of lingering"), exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity. The perfect antidote to writerly laziness. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
At the time of his death in 1985, Calvino was preparing to give the Norton Lectures at Harvard; this volume collects the texts completed at the time of his death, which are delightful, penetrating examinations of the literary experience.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In the lectures themselves, Calvino provides the kind of insight and fascination with the making of literature that fuels so many of his best books. Rather than come across as a manifesto of his own brilliance, as the premise may sound, Calvino spends a lot of time in admiration of the work of other writers, from classics like Ovid and Dante to colleagues and contemporaries, like Francis Perec and Douglas R. Hofstadter. The lectures are of course sometimes punctuated with personal details about his own writing processes, but I found them very inviting and revealing about the ideas he was trying to point out.
Each lecture dedicates itself to an aspect of literature that Calvino finds crucial: "Lightness," or the aspect of language that speaks directly to a reader and is not always weighed down with intellectual metaphor but with direct communication; "Quickness," or the immediacy of literature - the way it cuts through random detail to get to the necessary; "Exactitude," or the precision of language (and when it needs imprecision); "Visibility," or the power of imagery to convey ideas; and "Multiplicity," or the complexity of content.
Calvino is a writer who has always presented a kind of fascinating enigma. His works is spectacularly visual, and while crucially uncategorizable in its sense of being not easy to nail down in the area of metaphor or theme (something that Calvino no doubt worked quite strenuously at, clear when he talks about a poem's meaning in "Exactitude" as being "not fixed, not definitive, not hardened into mineral immobility, but alive as an organism"), it is also quite accessible and always an enjoyable read. Calvino mastered the art of experimentalism that did not read as though one needed to be schooled in the traditions of literature to understand his intents. Though Calvino clearly wants to offer his lectures as guides for the necessities of literature for posterity, it is also a manifesto on the man's own aesthetic, though it is not a manifesto that demands the agreement of others, or the demand that others follow in his footsteps. Though Calvino does have moments of criticism, as when he accuses schools of dispensing "the culture of the mediocre," which I take to mean the conveying of literature as something with set meaning that we must all learn and emulate (or at least parrot back), and also directs a barb or two at the publishing industry when he supports experimentalism with the following caveat: "The demands of the publishing business are a fetish that must not be allowed to keep us from trying out new forms." In this lecture series, Calvino presents himself quite wise and worldly, but also quite direct and earnest. A reading of this work at the start of any literature course on almost any level of schooling might provide a stiff reminder that literature is a work of passion, not just analysis, and it also works in the realm of paradox, as Calvino himself presents--that it is structure in literature that is needed to make it transcend structure, that one needs to be as aware of the lack of success in literature as much as success to see the stuff of great literature.
Calvino's last `memo,' "Consistency," was never written, but I could only imagine where he would have gone with it, which was always a strength of Calvino's work. The last lecture seems to bring to a full circle many of things he brings up through the series, but Calvino's work always found a way to extend beyond the full circle. Perhaps, in the end, the consistency needs to be ours, to make sure that this wisdom does not go to waste.
This volume is constituted by five Charles Eliot Norton lectures Calvino gave in 1985, shortly before he died. They are titled "Lightness," "Quickness," "Exactitude," "Visibility," and "Multiplicity." In each, Calvino explores the invisible working of language, whether it is the expression of mythmakers, poets or scientists -- ancients (Ovid and Lucretius), early moderns (Bocaccio, Dante and Galileo) and contemporaries ((Borges, Kafka and Kundera). But as well, he reveals his own thoughts about his own writings. For amateurs like myself, I also was introduced to writers I'd either knew casually or not at all - Cavalcanti (whom I discovered while reading essays by Ezra Pound more than a decade ago) and Montale and Leopardi.
What is most exciting is Calvino's ability to uncover what is hidden in the work of such modern writers as Jorge Luis Borges, whose work has fascinated me, but which I've never been confident I penetrated. As a result of reading Six Memos, I plan to return to Borges' works soon, but not until I've read some more of Calvino's fiction, including Cosmcomics, which I am currently reading, with great wonder.
After reading Six Memos for the first time, I've now read it a second time, more slowly than the first time, and plan to read it a third, even more slowly. Six Memos reveals to the reader the challenges of any writer to be able to capture the truth.
For any reader who also wishes to understand the magic of poetry, this is, in my judgment the best book I've ever read. It not only opens doors to anyone interested in the poetic art, it provides a set of criteria by which one may judge good poetry from bad.
I've also sent the title to fiction- and poetry- reading friends, anticipating that they will find it as exciting.
A wonderful book, a marvelous book. This rating is all about the publisher.
The Kindle e-book has enough typos to make a fourth grade teacher weep. 1 have to believe no one at Random H0use Proofread this even once aHer chopping up a print- ed copy and feeding it through their "make an ebook" mach- ine? There are hundreds of these little distractions. The book ends: "Copyright © 1988 by the Estate of halo Calvino." halo and his wondrous ideas deserve better.