Six Memos for the Millennium is a collection of five lectures Italo Calvino was about to deliver at the time of his death. Here is his legacy to us: the universal values he pinpoints become the watchwords for our appreciation of Calvino himself.

What should be cherished in literature? Calvino devotes one lecture, or memo to the reader, to each of five indispensable qualities: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity. A sixth lecture, on consistency, was never committed to paper, and we are left only to ponder the possibilities. With this book, he gives us the most eloquent defense of literature written in the twentieth century as a fitting gift for the next millennium.

1. Lightness

 'I look to science to nourish my visions in which all heaviness disappears' (8)

 'Today science seems intent on demonstrating that the world is supported by the most minute entities, such as the messages of DNA' (8)

' Is it legitimate to turn to scientific discourse to find an image of the world that suits my view? (8) 

'Lightness is a way of looking at the world based on philosophy and science' (10)

'The age of Shakespeare recognised subtle forces connecting macrocosm and microcosm ranging from those of the Neo-Platonic firmament to the spirits of metal transformed in the alchemist's crucible' (19)

2. Quickness

'I prefer to calculate at length the trajectory of my flight, expecting that I will be able to launch myself like an arrow and disappear over the horizon. Of else, if too many obstacles bar my way, to calculate the series of rectilinear segments that will lead me out of the labrynth as quickly as possible' (48)

3. Exactitude

'To my mind exactitude means three things: a well defined and well calculated plan, an evocation of clear, incisive and memorable visual images and a language as precise as possible both in. choice of words and in expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination (56) 

'A more complex symbol which has given me greater possibilities of expressing the tension between geometric rationality and the entanglements of human lives, is that of the city' (71)


'We may distinguish between two types of imaginative process: the one that starts with the word and arrives at the visual image and the one that starts with the visual image and arrives at its verbal expression' (83)

'This mental cinema is always at work in each of us and it has always been, even before the invention of the cinema. Nor does it ever stop projecting images before our mind's eye' (83) 

'Imagination as an instrument of knowledge or as identification with the world soul. Which do I choose? From what I have said, I ought to be a determined supported of the first tendency, since for me the story bis the union of a spontaneous logic of images and a plan carried out on the basis of rational intention.' (91)

'I have included visibility in my list of values to be saved, it is to give warning of the danger we run in losing a basic human faculty: the power of bringing visions into focus with our eyes shut, of bringing forth forms and colours from the lines of black letters on a white page and in fact of thinking in terms of images' (92)

'Will the literature of the fantastic be possible in the twenty-first century with the growing inflation of prefabricated images?' (92)


- On Musil: 'knowledge is the awareness of the incompatibility of two opposite polarities. One called exactitude while the other he calls soul, or irrationality, humanity, chaos' (110)

- Since science has begun to distrust general explanations and solutions that are not sectorial and specialised, the grand challenge for literature is to be capable of weaving together the various branches of knowledge, the various "codes", into a manifold and multifaceted vision of the world' (113)

- What tends to emerge from the great novels of the twentieth century is the idea of an 'open' encyclopaedia, an adjective that certainly contradicts the noun encyclopaedia which etymologically implies an attempt to exhaust knowledge of the world by enclosing it in a circle.' (116)

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