SIX MEMOS FOR THE NEXT MILLENNIUM
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 finished, and his widow has done the job of preparation. Calvino here deals with the exemplars of literature most clear to him--namely: Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, Multiplicity (Consistency was to be the sixth). To illustrate each, Calvino devotes much time to long illustrations from Ovid, Gadda, Dante, Leopardi, Musil, Kafka, Borges. These analyses are surprisingly academic in tone; they lack some of the buoyancy of Calvino's essays, sometimes seeming like Jungian seminars; they do not particularly take wing. But elegant genius that he was, Calvino--if not rigorous, and certainly often contradictory--offers much here. In discussing the virtue of lightness, for example, Calvino's background in folk tales allows him to find a defined anthropological link "between the levitation desired and the privation actually suffered." He discusses his own work as a crystalline substance and acknowledges a debt to comic strips for a visual matrix that he admits begins all his works. This, of course, is what's of most interest here--not Calvino the lecturer but Calvino the author, nodding at sources. Less gorgeous than one might have expected, but uniformally thoughtful.