Italo Calvino
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1988; translation from an Italian manuscript of 5 of the 6 lectures planned by the author before his death on September 19, 1985; 2016, new translation from HarperCollins
Nonfiction, General
ISBN: 9780674810402

From the Publisher. Italo Calvino, one of the world’s best storytellers, died on the eve of his departure for Harvard, where he was to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in 1985-86. Reticent by nature, he was always reluctant to talk about himself, but he welcomed the opportunity to talk about the making of literature. In the process of devising his lectures—his wife recalls that they were an "obsession" for the last year of his life—he could not avoid mention of his own work, his methods, intentions, and hopes.

Calvino devotes one lecture (a memo for his reader) to each of five indispensable literary values. First there is “lightness”(leggerezza), and Calvino cites Lucretius, Ovid, Boccaccio, Cavalcanti, Leopardi, and Kundera—among others, as always—to show what he means: the gravity of existence has to be borne lightly if it is to be borne at all. There must be “quickness,” a deftness in combining action (Mercury) with contemplation (Saturn). Next is “exactitude,” precision and clarity of language. The fourth lecture is on “visibility,” the visual imagination as an instrument for knowing the world and oneself. Then there is a tour de force on “multiplicity,” where Calvino brilliantly describes the eccentrics of literature (Flaubert, Gadda, Musil, Perec, himself) and their attempt to convey the painful but exhilarating infinitude of possibilities open to humankind. The sixth and final lecture—worked out but unwritten—was to be called “Consistency.” Calvino’s wife, Esther Calvino, a translator, supervised preparation of the book.

On 7 book lists
Alberto Alessi

Tells of the six fundamental qualities in human activity: good not only for novelists, but for life in general and very much for design in particular today (see “Lightness” and “Consistency”).

Michael Manfredi

Italo Calvino’s meditations on the values and attributes that make great literature: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity, and consistency. It is as relevant to architecture as it is to literature.

Thom Mayne

It’s a book I’ve returned to for 30 years.


Karim Rashid

This book exemplifies the study of phenomenology, which has inspired my work. These are Calvino’s lectures, and my favorite is “Exactitude.” A really inspiring poetic read. I love his essays. Invisible Cities is also a fabulous book.

Terence Riley

The “next millennium” has proven to be more trying than expected, but Calvino’s predictions still seem valid for the long run.

Marco Romanelli

Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, Multiplicity, and Consistency were, according to Calvino, the qualities required for a work of literature. Why not use these same criteria for a work of design?

Matteo Thun
His ideas on lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity, and consistency still inspire me every day.
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