Thursday, July 09, 2009

Autolatria, Fantasia and Habit

TLS July 3 2009

from Peter Hainsworth's review of SONGBOOK: The selected poems of Umberto Saba, translated by George Hochfield and Leonard Nathan:

Poets usually write about themselves, even when they are pretending not to. But few can have put themselves forward quite so much as Umberto Saba, the Triestine writer who has sometimes been rated one of Italy's best poets of the twentieth century and who, in his own opnion, was quite simply the greatest since Leopardi. What is strange is that the more you read Saba, the less the "autolatria" or self-worship, as Montale called it, seems off-putting. Rather than self-aggrandizement, it comes over more as an unstable, knowing series of self-projections, which the reader is implicitly asked to recognize and sympathize with and which, when everything goes well, give rise to poetry.

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In 1921 Saba gathered together the considerable body of work he had already published as his Canzioniere, literally perhaps Songbook as Hochfield and Nathan have it, but suggesting in Italian an organized collected poems on the Petrarchan model with strong autobiographical overtones. The final version would not come out until 1948 . . . .

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from Joseph Farrell's review of Italo Calvino's THE COMPLETE COSMICOMICS, translated by William Weaver, Tim Parks and Martin L. McLaughlin:

Calvino was a master of fantasia in the double sense of the Italian word: fantasy and imagination. All his life he was attracted by the genre of fantasy and displayed a creative imagination which raised him above his contemporaries.

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The availability for the first time in English of all the tales that can be grouped under the cosmicomic heading can only enhance Calvino's standing. He returned to these idiosyncratic themes several times during his life, publishing new collections, rewriting or modifying previous versions, dropping some tales, adding others and reordering the works to give them greater coherence. While most of the tales were written and published in the period 1963-8, the last few appeared in 1984.

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from Mark Vernon's review of Felix Ravaisson's OF HABIT, translated by Clare Carlisle and Mark Sinclair:

Ravaisson reconceives the nature of habit so that it does no jeopardize freedom, but rather represents a shift in the status of freedom, from that of idea to being. . . . Ravaisson redefines what is second nature to us in habit by arguing that habit is not a barrier of ignorance, but an embodied intelligence. Habit can be understanding by other means. To do so, he draws on the Aristotelian understanding of habit as a way of being, and suggests a third way between physical and mental conceptions of consciousness--a synthesis that may interest contemporary philosophers of mind: habit can be thought of as medicating between instinct and will.

Ravaisson proceeds by a completely general analysis of movement, which locates him in the world of nineteenth-century science. This may seem anachronistic today. Nonetheless, it allows him to conceive of movement as a means of engaging increasingly more profoundly with the world as a hierarchy of being which rises from inanimate existence to living and then conscious beings. "[For], although movement, as it becomes a habit, leaves the sphere of will and reflection, it does not leave that of intelligence . . . [it becomes] the effect of an inclination that follows from the will . . . [and] every inclination towards a goal implies intelligence."

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