Monday, December 29, 2014


In 2001 Tim Parks translated Roberto Calasso's Literature and the Gods. It reads now as a sort of manifesto for Calasso's linked cycle of cultural meditations currently extending to seven volumes, the first of which was written thirty years ago, and the latest, Ardor, issued just this autumn.

Toward the end of Literature and the Gods, Calasso quotes from Contre Sainte-Beuve, an early work of criticism by Marcel Proust 

"The poet's mind is full of manifestations of the mysterious laws and, when these manifestations appear, they grow more vigorous, they detach themselves vigorously on the mind's deep bed, they aspire to come out from him, because everything that must last aspires to come out from everything that is fragile, short-lived, and that could perish the very same evening or no longer be able to bring them to the light. So at every moment, whenever it feels strong enough and has an outlet, the human species tends to come out from itself, in a complete sperm, that contains the whole of it, of today's man who may die as we said this very evening, or who perhaps will no longer contain it in its wholeness, or in whom (since it depends on him so long as it is his prisoner) it will never be so strong again. Thus the thought of the mysterious laws, or poetry, when it feels strong enough, aspires to come out from the short-lived man who perhaps this evening will be dead or in whom (since it depends on him so long as it is his prisoner, and he could get sick, or be distracted, or grow worldly, less strong, squander in pleasure the treasure he carries within him and that decays if he chooses to live in a certain way, since its destiny is still tied to him) it will no longer have that mysterious energy that allows it to open out in its fullness, it aspires to come out from the man in the form of the work. "

With the blessing, there will be many more volumes before the shape of Roberto Calasso's ongoing cycle becomes wholly visible. One of the happiest privileges of living and reading in the present is the knowledge that Calasso, at age 73, continues his work, with a new installment already perhaps embarked on its own twisty path to the press.

"He's an interesting phenomenon, Calasso. He absorbs absolutely everything. The mind of this gentleman is nothing less than the history of civilization in miniature. He's a crucible: he mingles East and West; he extracts essences, and the aim is infinity."   Joseph Brodsky

"Literature grows like grass between the heavy gray paving stones of thought." – Roberto Calasso