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Close up of Italo Calvino's face

A Prophetic Imagination: Italo Calvino and His Six Proposals


A few days before passing away, Calvino was preparing a series of conferences surrounding the values that he considered essential for the new and approaching millennium.

Creativity has its own prophetic tenor.  At times, creative genius also makes itself known through intuitions that may appear extravagant, risky, and even absurd for their time, but that later reveal to have been innovative, part of the vanguard: ahead of their time. Thus, creativity is a type of sixth sense which sees already existing symbols and reads a panorama that makes the future possible, more often than not, with surprisingly precise results.

On June 6, 1984, Harvard University extended an invitation to Italo Calvino asking him to teach the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, an honor that had been bestowed on other brilliant creators such as T. S. Eliot, Igor Stravinsky, J. L. Borges and Octavio Paz, brought together under the pretext of speaking about poetry and its place in the contemporary world.

Unfortunately, on September 19,1985, a few days before he was to give the lectures he had prepared, Calvino passed away. Luckily for us, this did not stop the texts from being published in a book entitled Six Memos for the Following Millennium.

We are in 1985, and barely fifteen years stand between us and the new millennium. For the time being I don’t think the approach of this date arouses any special emotion. However, I’m not here to talk of futurology, but of literature.

It was thus that Calvino introduced his cycle, because, indeed, that period was still somewhat removed from the later fever of the changing digits, and the effects this would have on collective psyche.

This was, surely, an unexpected choice. While his colleagues decided to discuss the specific characteristics of poetry, music, architecture and other arts, Calvino came up with something that combined a manifest, a divinatory exercise, and a last will concerning the attributes, he asserted, we would have to practice during the imminent millennium.

Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, Multiplicity and the unfinished Consistency conform the condensation of this endeavor. He bestowed these six suggested values that, from an exclusively literary perspective —which also means sensitive, inclusive and humanist, in the best sense of the word— can be read as a  map of sorts for a future that is always being built from the present moment.

Six Memos for the Following Millennium can be understood under the light of creative imagination, which transcends consciousness to become real, which might have been part of our fantasy world, but nonetheless is, potentially, the seed of “the best of all the possible worlds”, as Leibniz called it.

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