In books lauded as brilliant, exhilarating and profound, Roberto Calasso has revealed the unexpected intersections of ancient and modern through topics ranging from Greek and Indian mythology to what a legendary African kingdom can tell us about the French Revolution. In this first translation of his most important essays, Calasso brings his powerful intellect and elegant prose style to bear on the essential thinkers of our time, providing a sweeping analysis of the current state of Western culture. 'Forty-nine steps' refers to the Talmudic doctrine that there are forty-nine steps to meaning in every passage of the Torah. Employing this interpretative approach, Calasso offers a 'secret history' of European literature and philosophy in the wake of Nietzsche, Marx and Freud. Calasso analyses how figures ranging from Gustav Flaubert, Gottfried Benn, Karl Kraus and Martin Heidegger to Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka, Bertolt Brecht and Theodor Adorno have contributed to, or been emblematic of, the current state of Western thought. This book's theme, writ large, is the power of the fable - specifically, its persistence in art and literature despite its exclusion from orthodox philosophy.
In its breadth and the nature of its concerns, "The Forty-nine Steps" is a philosophical and literary twin to the widely praised Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. Combining erudition with engaging prose and original insights, Calasso contributes a daring new interpretation of some of the most challenging writers of the past 150 years.
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(234mm x 156mm x 20mm)
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
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UK Kirkus Review »
Originally published in Italian in 1991, this English version of Roberto Calasso's acclaimed considerations of the work of many great thinkers and writers comes better late than never, courtesy of award-winning translator John Shepley. Calasso's previous revelations have been hailed as 'brilliant', 'unique' and 'powerful' and, with so much to look up to, sights are set high in this collection of essays in which he surveys a range of figures who loom large in European philosophy and literature. As his tool he looks no further than the 'forty-nine steps' of the title - the number of steps, apparently, to meaning in every passage of the Torah. Taking Nietzsche and Marx as his starting point, Calasso analyses the likes of Franz Kafka, Bertolt Brecht and Gustave Flaubert and their contributions to modern thought. His obvious enjoyment underpins his undoubted encyclopaedic knowledge, and his writing style moves the often complex subject matter along steadily, ensuring that these pages contain nothing short of a feast for those fortunate enough to have already acquired the taste. There's a sense of fun, too, often absent in such a complex field. Calasso refers to books that were once considered important 'though no one can say why' before exploring the connection between Martin Heidegger's thoughts and the metaphysical basics of a universally recognized icon in 'On the Fundamentals of the Coca-Cola Bottle'. Confused? You may well be at first, and you'd be forgiven for initially seeing only a dense and impenetrable morass. Perseverance is the key, however, and will reward the reader with a panoramic range of quotations and erudite observations linking together myths and legends, great philosophical notions, celestial bodies and the passage of time itself. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Roberto Calasso
Roberto Calasso was born in Florence, Italy, and now lives in Milan, where he is the publisher of Adelphi Edizioni. He is the author of L'impuro folle, about the famous Schreber case, and of a work in progress, of which three parts have appeared: The Ruin of Kasch, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony and Ka. His most recent book is Literature and the Gods. John Shepley is a freelance writer and translator. His translation of Pier Paolo Pasolini's Roman Night and Other Stories won the first Italo Calvino Translation Ward in 1987.