Italian writer and editor died in Milan at the age of eighty
After a long illness, Roberto Calasso (Florence, 1941), writer and president of the Adelphi publishing house, has died in Milan. He was one of the most recognized and translated writers and essayists abroad, as well as being an internationally renowned publisher. His works have been translated into 25 languages and published in 28 countries. Calasso devoted his entire life to books. With Adelphi he marked a radical change in the publishing history of Italy, by contributing to revolutionize the cultural consumption of Italians, with new authors and new lines of thought.
The publishing vocation was a passion inherited from his maternal grandfather, Ernesto Codignola, philosopher and pedagogue, one of the founders of the publishing house La Nueva Italia, which marked the first readings of the young Roberto Calasso, an early reader who consumed all the literature that fell in his hands, like his teacher Roberto Bazlen, also known as Bobi Bazlen, a literary critic, translator, and writer, like him a lover of classical mythology and Central European literature, on which he based a large part of the Adelphi catalog.
Just today, in an incredible coincidence with his death, two of his autobiographical books appear in bookstores: ‘ Memè Scianca’ , about his childhood in Florence; and ‘ Bobi ‘, the memoirs of Roberto Bazlen, creator with Luciano Foà of the Adelphi publishing house, born in 1965, although later it was directed and built by Calasso as of 1971.
For Adephi, Roberto Calasso translated several works, among them ‘Ecce homo’ (1969) by Nietzsche, and ‘Aphorisms of Zürau’ (2004) by Franz Kafka. From the eighties, he devoted himself to the writing of a multi-volume work in which myths and philosophy emerge. His works include ‘La ruina di Kasch’ (1983); The wedding of Cadmo and Harmonia ‘(1988), which becomes an international bestseller; ‘El rosa Tiepolo’ (2006); ‘The madness that comes from the nymphs’ (2008); ‘The burning’ (2010); ‘The celestial hunter’ (2016), ‘The unnameable present time’ (2017).
Roberto Calasso was a refined and intuitive editor, averse to the alleged cultural hegemony of the left, which was expressed above all in the figure of Giulio Einaudi from Turin, founder of the publishing house that bears his name. Indeed, Adelphi was born as an act of protest against what Einaudi represented
At Adelphi, Calasso relaunched authors who, despite having been published in Italy, had gone almost unnoticed, including Milan Kunder a. The publisher’s bestseller is Hermann Hesse’s allegorical novel ‘Siddhartha’.
With Adelphi, the Italian readers discovered the ‘Mitteleuropean’ culture (typical of the countries of central Europe, a term that Milan Kundera did not like) and got acquainted with Joseph Roth and Karl Kraus, Arthur Schnitzler, and Hugo von Hoffmansthal . They approached readings by authors accused of irrationalism and mysticism. In short, they came into contact with the great authors persecuted by communist power, such as Vasily Grossman, a fighter against communism, and they got to know the extraordinary book ‘The captive mind’ by Czeslaw Milosz, Nobel laureate in 1980. Even some authors, despised by some critics who considered his books as minor literature, found their consecration in Adelphi, as was the case of Georges Simenon, a great writer.
There were also many protagonists of Italian literature who found refuge and greater prestige in the Adelphi catalog, from Leonardo Sciascia to Alberto Arbasino.
Editorial theorist, Calasso argued that “the publishing house is a sum of paper objects that, together, can also be considered as a single book.” In practice, this meant that the Adelphi books, with a style marked by very particular graphics and colors on their covers, form a library in which the volumes speak of everything and constitute a structure like a library in which the volumes individually they speak of a whole and are structured as a single book.
Roberto Calasso’s death constitutes a serious loss for Italian culture. The Italian Publishers Association (AIE) has paid tribute to his work: “ It profoundly marked the Italian culture of the 20th century and the new century, as a publisher and as a writer. He directed the Adelphi publishing house for fifty years, publishing books that are pillars of European civilization (and not only) in our country, and has contributed in a fundamental way to promoting Italian culture abroad.