According to Calasson, no book is an island

La biblioteca secondo Calasso nessun libro è un'isola Roberto Calasso, in Rome in 1989, photographed by Enrica Scalfari in front of her father's library Francesco Calasso (Photo Agf)

With The book of all books , released last autumn, Roberto Calasso added the tenth part to an immense, fascinating yet unclassifiable work, whose first volume, The ruin of Kasch , dates back to thirty-seven years does. In my humble and questionable opinion, this undertaking by Calasso and the autobiographical cycle by Karl Ove Knausgård are the two most ambitious and memorable bets on the future of contemporary literature in Europe, and they have in common the fact that they are composed of volumes that are also readable in their autonomy, and not necessarily in chronological order. It could be said that Knausgård is ahead, in the sense that in 2011 he finished with the sixth volume My battle , not before having filled three thousand thick pages. But even Calasso (who for now has not given the series an overall title, but has simply numbered the individual volumes) will have something in mind, because he is a writer too attentive to formal laws to ignore that forms, to be credible images of the world , unlike the world, they have to end somewhere.

«Come ordinare una biblioteca» di Roberto Calasso (Adelphi, pp. 128, euro 14) esce il 28 maggio
«How to order a library» by Roberto Calasso (Adelphi, pp. 128, EUR 14) comes out on 28 May

Alongside the opus magnum, Calasso publishes occasionally volumes of minor writings, where his essayist qualities are enhanced, as in Literature and gods and in this How to order a library , which collects various interventions (some already partially appeared on the pages of this newspaper) linked to a reflection on the objects, institutions, mental models that revolve around the concept of “book”, starting from its physical materiality as an object now often given for obsolete and dead but, as Calasso observes, irreplaceable like the beds, or the spoons. In fact, the first prophecies about the “death of the book” and its digital dematerialization date back to the late 1980s, but it is easier, apparently, than to realize the infamous “death of art” than that of the book. Perhaps Calasso underestimates the ebook excessively, which allows a completely new and very exciting experience: reading in the dark. But he is absolutely right when he says that the world is still full of books, in the face of many futurologists, because our body allows us a very limited number of gestures and “objects are more or less happy attempts to adapt to the inevitable characteristics of those gestures. ”

In addition to the reflections promised by the title on the arrangement of public and private libraries, Calasso's book deals, in order, with the golden age of literary magazines (at the from 1920 to 1945); the review (whose archetype dates back to an article from 1665 ); and finally the bookstores: these yes, as we all know, at risk of extinction with the advent of Amazon.

The red thread of these meditations seems to us that of the theory of the “good neighborhood”, which dates back to Aby Warburg, who besides being a formidable precursor in the history of art and in the study of symbols, he gave shape to a library that was born as private and has become a real heritage of humanity. Well, the basis of Warburg's intuition is the fact that books never exhaust their meanings in themselves, as if they were self-sufficient verbal monads, but generate new and unexpected ones through their combination: obviously in the mind of who reads, but also on the shelves of a library or bookstore. And the same is also true for the indexes of the great literary magazines of the twentieth century, where we could find, side by side, a prose by Paul Valéry and a chapter of the Ulysses of Joyce.

It is still a matter, as Calasso writes with a formula that could also be applied to his major works, to “multiply and complicate meanings”. Reading these reflections can also be a way to understand the absurdity of that old intellectual game of society, in which you had to choose a single book to take to a deserted island. What's the point of giving an answer? None is the right one. Even with just two books, the game would acquire a completely different likelihood, because two well-chosen books are a world, and it is not certain that reading more than two is necessarily good. But a single book, on that imaginary desert island, would not be itself, it would quickly darken like an electric device running out of batteries. Paradoxically enough, men are able to live on their own far more than the things they write. And the unique book, whatever it is, is always a foul symbol of lie and death. But the most interesting aspect of Calasso's reasoning, worthy of being explored, is a note of pessimism about the present, as if our era were incapable of producing not so much good books as “good neighbors”.

The golden age of magazines, Calasso observes, ended when not the individual talent, but the “common fabric”, and the literature of the new millennium died it has become “a matter of individuals, tenaciously separated and solitary”. If we think about it, well, that's exactly the world of best sellers, of the novels of the moment of which six months later nobody remembers anything: that created by the cultural industry is a fundamentally solipsistic mental space, where every book is passed off as the right one by go to a desert island. And luckily the deserted islands no longer exist, otherwise the world would be even more full of rip-offs than it already is.

The project. A work in progress with ten titles and more 10 thousand pages

Roberto Calasso from beyond 40 years he works on a work in various parts, all self-sufficient, but connected to each other. So far ten titles have been published: The Ruin of Kasch (1983), an anthropology of the Modern; The wedding of Cadmus and Harmony (1988), which tells of ancient Greece and its myths; Ka (1996)), which runs through the Indian myths; K. (2002), on Franz Kafka; The pink Tiepolo (2006), around Giambattista Tiepolo; La Folie Baudelaire (2008), constellation of stories that branch out from a Baudelaire dream; L'ardore (2010), which investigates the metaphysics implicit in Vedic rituals; The Heavenly Hunter (2016), intertwined stories of gods, of animals and men; The current unmentionable (2017), on the scene that surrounds us today, and The book of all the books (2019).

26 May 2020 (edit the 26 May 2020 | 22: 40)