Italo Calvino and Values of World Literature

By Jan Curtis.

Published by The Global Studies Journal

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the nineteenth century, Johann von Goethe anticipated the unification of our planet. In his journal "Kunst und Altertum" (Art and Antiquity) in 1828, Goethe hoped for increased cultural understanding resulting from the revolution in communication and print media during his own time. He saw the signs of a universal world literature in the process of being constituted. In the context of the literature of the world, Goethe argued that a national literature is a rather unmeaning term. The focus of a world literature is not to encourage nations to think alike, but that they grow to understand and tolerate one another and "through their own inclinations ... find the motive for corporate action." The study of world literature, with all its perplexities and fascinations, is essential in a global world today. Taking my cue from Goethe and contemporary writers on this subject (for example, David Damrosch), I propose to explore one of the values of world literature based on a reading of Italo Calvino's “Six Memos for the Next Millennium", in which Calvino identifies universal values of literature in a series of lectures offered as memos for the 21st century. For example, in the first lecture Calvino finds an auspicious image for our time in the agility of the writer who searches for "lightness as a reaction to the weight of living." Lightness as a kind of "weightless gravity" allows for flight into another world, another culture, another level of perception. I propose to consider Calvino's value of lightness in terms of the network of world literature.

Keywords: World Literature, Values of Literature, Italo Calvino, Lightness

The Global Studies Journal, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.77-84. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 383.597KB).

Dr. Jan Curtis

Associate Professor of English, Department of Languages and Letters, Cape Breton University, Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada

I have been teaching modern British and Irish literature at Cape Breton University since 1990. My other interests evolved from these areas: for example, classical mythology in modern literature as well as Celtic mythology. I attend the International Irish Summer Schools as often as I can. In the last five years, I have been exploring connections between the arts and ecology, and have initiated a number of projects that involve collaborations with artists, teachers, academics, and ecologists At the moment, I am offering new courses on world literature and contemporary Irish drama.


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