The sacred literature of Hinduism is traditionally divided into two “families.” In the older of the two are the books of revelation, held in highest. In Ka Roberto Calasso has taken the sprawling body of classical Sanskrit literature and synthesized it into a kind of novel. Each of its fourteen chapters. KA. Stories of the Mind and Gods of India. by Roberto Calasso In crisply written prose, Calasso (The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony.

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In Pyrgos, Greece, Roberto Calasso is a literary institution of one. In calaszo country where intellectuals like to complain, perhaps more than elsewhere, that literary culture has fallen by the wayside, Calasso has come to stand for a lost ideal: Last January, despite a transportation strike and an early-morning earthquake, I found Calasso sitting behind his desk at the Adelphi headquarters in Milan, studiously ignoring an old telephone, which he lets ring a dozen times before he picks up. On the first afternoon, we drew a conversation chart for the days to come.

Calasso expresses himself, in both Italian and English, with extreme precision and touching generosity. Although he has a reputation for being remote and forbiddingly intelligent, he comes off as approachable, affable, even funny.

He reads novels and essays quickly for work and slowly for pleasure, takes very tidy notes on nearly everything at any given time he may extract a notebook from his jacket and jot something downand his prodigious memory in matters great and small is almost discernible in the swift movement of his eyes. In a glowing review of the book, Italo Calvino wrote that it dealt with two things: His next three books were, ostensibly, on modern subjects: I started writing my memoirs when I was twelve.

The first line was about the sound of a tramway, which changed with the onset of summer. At night I heard it race toward us—number Roberti book covered my years between four and calwsso. Yes, inin the middle of the war.

Probably the most desperate year in the history of Europe, with the Nazis in Paris still thinking they were going to win. My father was a professor of the history of law at the University of Florence, and dalasso was known as an anti-Fascist. Inthe philosopher Giovanni Gentile was assassinated. Gentile was an important philosopher, but unfortunately he was very much involved with the Fascists. He was killed in front of a villa near Florence by two partisans.

In reprisal, three professors on a special list xalasso anti-Fascists wanted by the government were arrested and condemned to death immediately afterward. One of them was my father. They were close friends.

Roberto Calasso

So two sons of Gentile immediately went to the police to talk them out of killing these three men. It was an act of great generosity. The Fascists warned that if anything else happened at the hands of the partisans, the three foberto would be shot. They remained in jail for a month, every night thinking they might be executed the next day.


Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India by Roberto Calasso

In the end they were freed thanks to the consul of Germany, an exceptional man named Gerhard Wolf. And Wolf remembered that when Hitler visited Florence inhe saw the Uffizi. The man who was chosen to accompany him was Bianchi Bandinelli. Hitler was enthusiastic about this guide and remembered him. So Wolf told Berlin that Bandinelli was going to be killed, and that was decisive. The Fascists liberated all three men. Following their liberation, my father of course had to disappear, and so did we.

The danger was that we might be taken hostage. For a while we were hidden by a very brave woman in her attic on Via Cavour, right in the center of Florence. My haziest, very first recollections are from around that time. I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and I remember trying to climb up to a window because we heard people shooting in the street.

But my first precise memories are from a villa in San Domenico Fiesole, near Florence, where we stayed later on in the war.

Yes, we stayed in Florence until Then we moved to Rome because my father took a position teaching there and later became dean of his faculty. My mother had written her Ph. But although she was very talented in her field, she preferred to care for her three children. My best friend was the son of a doctor who had a great passion for Wagner. We were able to go to the Teatro Comunale every Sunday because he had three orchestra places, and he would take us boys.

It was the time when all the great ones were conducting.

I remember at my first concert the conductor was Hermann Scherchen, a legend. Later on, Bruno Walter, Mitropoulos, Fricsay, so many others. The house was lined with books, mainly the primary sources on which my father used to work—texts in the theory of law published between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Rather impressive folios, many of them, and mostly in Latin. Just to see them around, with their obscure titles and authors, was far more useful to me than reading so many other books later on.

He was a professor of philosophy at the University of Florence. He was also the founder of a publishing house, La Nuova Italia, which still exists. On its backlist you can find a lot of Hegel and some of the greatest classical scholars.

I had a sort of mania for the cinema at that time—I went once or twice a day instead calassi doing schoolwork. It robert exciting going to these big, dark, smoky halls in the city center. I had a real passion for Cakasso Brando. He fascinated me as an actor and a sort of mutant—when he first appeared he looked like a new anthropological specimen.

The films, too, I loved. I knew all of them by heart. I found all Hollywood genres alluring in their own ways. I had a superb professor of Greek and Latin. A terribly lively, intelligent, quick woman named Maria Di Porto. Among many other things. When I was twelve I met the man who was to become the great friend of my life. Alas, he died some time ago. He was the most remarkable reader I have la met—his calassl on books was perfect.


His name was Enzo Turolla. He was a marvelous man, and I met rpberto, of all places, on a soccer field in the Dolomites during a vacation. He was ten years older than me, but we hit it off right away.

KA by Roberto Calasso | Kirkus Reviews

He heard me say that what Croce wrote on Baudelaire was not so great, and we started talking and never stopped. A bit in the way of those Oxford dons who publish half a dozen articles in their lives. He taught for years at the University of Padua. His family had a very charming house in Venice, and I used la go there often for long stays.

We would go around talking until four in the morning.


When we met, he was plunged into Proust. Proust became a great love, and he is still one of the writers I return to often. The theory of hieroglyphs kx Sir Thomas Browne—to my mind, the best English prose of the seventeenth century. Borges loved him—he was one of his favorite authors. And he was also a favorite of my supervisor, Mario Praz. He was a great writer. A sort of lesser English parallel to Montaigne, but esoteric. Hieroglyphs—the idea of a language made up of images—are connected with all my work.

For a long time, this language was considered more important than the language of words. Certain writers or scholars, like Thomas Browne, believed that they were a secret language.

Rboerto was the beginning of many things for me. The doctorate was also a good pretext for going to Roherto. Mornings in the British Library and afternoons in the Warburg Institute. It was the sixties, the beginning of the Beatles and so much else. Naturally I postponed the end of my dissertation as long as I could. In the end I wrote it in less than a month, smoking hashish every night.

I had some American friends in Rome back then, experts in all sorts of drugs. Rather astonishing when I think about it now. Since my twenty-first birthday, in That was the day on which Bazlen told me that a publishing house was going to start where we might publish the books we truly liked. The books in my room at the publishing house are what remains of the large and precious library he had—it was the library of a man who bought the novels of Kafka and Joyce calasxo they appeared because they were the young ak around.

He is the one who really discovered Svevo, for instance. He ordered his friend Montale calasos read this totally obscure writer.

Bazlen was a great Taoist master.