Six Memos for the Next Millennium

Overview

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...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
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 heart'': lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity. (The final lecture, on consistency, has not been found.) Calvino ranges widely in classical and modern European literature to illustrate his themes, but his reflections are perhaps most revealing as commentaries on his own work, where the search for lightness is "a reaction to the weight of living,'' fantasy occupies a central place, and multiple possibilities are worked out in specific detail. Richard Kuczkowski, Dominican Coll., Blauvelt, N.Y.
New York Times Book Review
Certainly no one has written so well about that gifted and nimble Italian genius of the short prose narrative Italo Calvino as has the master himself in these five highly personal meditations on the art of writing, originally intended for the 1985-1986 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard before death intervened early that same fall with a swift startling stroke. The very titles here--'Lightness,' 'Quickness,' 'Exactitude,' 'Visibility,' 'Multiplicity'--amount to a recital of Calvino's most admired characteristics, qualities echoed here in Patrick Creagh's sensitive translation. A sixth--Calvino's provocative open-endedness--is ironically provided by the absence of the unwritten final lecture, which was to have been 'Consistency.'...While each of these literary values is distinct, each seems at the same time to embrace the others, 'visibility' emerging from 'lightness,' 'exactitude' making 'quickness' possible, all the qualities caught up in 'multiplicity's' net or in 'visibility's' inner eye--it's a kind of magic act resembling the threading of the cosmos on an endless loop through the eye of a needle--in such a way that summary images of the art of writing, at least that practiced by Calvino himself, are to be found on almost every page...And if I were to choose a quintessential image for the author of such crystalline models of 'weightless gravity' as 'The Nonexistent Knight,' 'Cosmicomics,' 'Invisible Cities' and 'If on a Winter's Night a Traveler'--classics of this millennium that the next will surely cherish--out of the many here, I would perhaps choose this one, the leaping poet. It seems to me a whole aesthetic is hidden away in it, and a biography as well.
— Robert Coover
New York Review of Books
A reader must delight in the way that Calvino convokes Ovid, Dante, Shakespeare, Balzac, Henry James, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Musil, Borges, and also computer science, Felix the Cat, rebuses, and tarot cards...He details his aesthetic penchants and proclivities with a lucidity that leaves most of his critics looking fuzzy and extraneous.
— Brad Leithauser
New Republic
We read the lectures [Calvino] was to have given at Harvard--light, graceful, self-mocking prophecies and promises made on literature's behalf--as fragile last words...[There is] a special kind of enchantment once we realize what Calvino is doing...[His] gift is not for seeing two sides to a question, but for seeing how a question conceals other, endlessly shifting and multiplying questions, and even some unlikely answers; for seeing how a word can drift among a family of meanings...Calvino's larger arguments are casual, but his insights are not. Or to put it another way, Calvino's topics are less important than what they permit. They permit, for example, a beautifully paced account of his own reading, a record of cherished books and images, which amounts to a discreet fragment of autobiography.
— Michael Wood
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Calvino's lectures, his shining literary testament, crystallize the spirit that has produced his work. Characteristically, it takes a symbol, artfully constructed tale or character, and rotates it prismlike, so that it catches all kinds of new lights. Calvino is as entrancing as a theorist as he is a tale-teller; his lectures contain flights of thought that are dazzling...Each of the many facets of Calvino's discourse is set at an angle that seems to exist by itself; but taken together, they are their own single and resonating crystal.
— Richard Eder
London Review of Books
This is really a testament to the quiet authority of Calvino's manner, the fruit of his lifelong endeavor to 'remove weight...from language' which makes his prose so unassuming and at the same time so persuasive.
— Jonathan Coe
From the Publisher
"One of the most rigorously presented and beautifully illustrated critical testaments in all of literature." —Boston Globe

"Calvino's lectures [are] his shining literary testament.... [He] is as entrancing a theorist as he is a tale-teller." —Los Angeles Times Book Review

"No one has written so well about that gifted and nimble Italian genius Italo Calvino as has the master himself in these five highly personal meditations on the art of writing." —The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780544146679
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 8/4/2015
  • Pages: 144

Meet the Author

Italo Calvino's superb storytelling gifts earned him international renown and a reputation as "one of the world's best fabulists" (New York Times Book Review ). He is the author of numerous works of fiction, as well as essays, criticism, and literary anthologies. Born in Cuba in 1923, Calvino was raised in Italy, where he lived most of his life. At the time of his death, in Siena in 1985, he was the most-translated contemporary Italian writer.

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Table of Contents

1. LIGHTNESS

2. QUICKNESS

3. EXACTITUDE

4. VISIBILITY

5. MULTIPLICITY

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