On September 18th, 1985, an Italian writer named Italo Calvino was preparing to fly to Massachusetts to deliver a series of lectures at Harvard University. He’d worked obsessively on the lectures and struggled with what to title them. As his wife tells the story, “Calvino was delighted by the word “memos,” after having thought of and dismissed titles such as “Some Literary Values,” “A Choice of Literary Values,” “Six Literary Legacies,”–all of them ending with “Sei Proposte Per Il Prossimo Millennio” (Six Memos for the Next Millennium).”
Instead of departing for the US, he was admitted to a hospital in Siena where he died during the night of a brain hemorrhage. His lectures were published posthumously.
Since in each of my lectures I have set myself the task of recommending to the next millennium a particular value close to my heart, the value I want to recommend today is precisely this: In an age when other fantastically speedy, widespread media are triumphing, and running the risk of flattening all communication onto a single, homogeneous surface, the function of literature is communication between things that are different simply because they are different, not blunting but even sharpening the differences between them, following the true bent of written language…
My work as a writer has from the beginning aimed at tracing the lightning flashes of the mental circuits that capture and link points distant from each other in space and time…Just as it is from the poet writing verse, so it is for the prose writer: success consists in felicity of verbal expression, which every so often may result from a quick flash of inspiration but as a rule involves a patient search for the mot juste, for the sentence in which every word is inalterable, the most effective marriage of sounds and concepts…one that is concise, concentrated, and memorable.