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Literature and the Gods


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About the Author

Roberto Calasso lives in Milan, Italy.


Anyone who has read Ka or The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony knows that one cannot speed-read Calasso. Like all his other works, this latest by the Italian historian and publisher, based on his Weidenfeld Lectures of May 2000 at Oxford, speaks to an erudite audience. It is not for the easily daunted; to appreciate it, one must know Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Hlderlin, Lautramont, Mallarm, and several other important writers and be acquainted with Greco-Roman and Vedic myth. This is not really prose but rather edited oratory, and it comes across that way; you must listen to it more than read it. If you do and put what you hear in the context of 19th- and 20th-century European history and culture, you will understand that the ancient Gods are no longer dead but were reborn to live in our novels and poetry. Here Calasso describes how that came about. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries. James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"One way or another, the world will go on being the place of epiphanies," says literary theorist Calasso (Ka; The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony) in this impressive, weighty and succinct work based on his Weidenfeld Lectures at Oxford last year. Calasso argues that literary texts have always had a religious dimension, whether overtly (as in Homer) or covertly (as in Borges). In the modern era, pre-Christian deities, though often seen as "fugitive guests of literature," have weighed in heavily, asserts Calasso. He elucidates their none-too-obvious influence in a variety of works, both Western and non-Western, from Vedic verse ("the first example of the worship of form") and the Romantic prose of Nietzsche, to the modern poetry of Mallarm‚ and even the postmodern prose of Nabokov. Calasso sees the 19th century as "the heroic age of absolute literature," which embodies "a knowledge that one assimilates while in search of an absolute, and that thus draws in no less than everything... unbound, freed from any... social utility." Married to certain aesthetics, specifically from German Romanticism through Symbolism, he dismisses much 20th-century poetic experimentalism "embarrassingly labeled as `modernism' or `the avant-garde' " for its "aggressive, disruptive forms." Regardless of literary preference, his gorgeous, vivid turns of phrase are a pleasure, and Parks's translation retains Calasso's grace and poise, doing justice to his lovely metaphors ("literature can become an effective stratagem for sneaking the gods out of the universal clinic and getting them back into the world, scattered across its surface where they have always dwelt"). Scholars and general readers of world literature and religion will enjoy this rich, poetic contribution to literary theory, and to poetics in particular. (Mar. 21) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"Roberto Calasso's survey of the renewed interest in myth demonstrates how decisive the gods' influence was on modern literature. Calasso is not only immensely learned; he is one of the most original thinkers and writers we have today." -Charles Simic

"Calasso can take your breath away." -The New Yorker

"[A] riveting work of cultural history. . . . Learned, eloquent, and artful." -The Weekly Standard

"Luminescent. . . . Stimulating. . . . Seduce[s] a reader in search of ideas that entertain as well as edify." -Los Angeles Times Book Review

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