Lightness and the Future of Antiquity in Lezioni americane

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issue (Academic Journal)peer-review


This article considers Calvino’s memo on lightness in relation to his vision of antiquity as part of the literatures of the future. It sets out to explore this question from the perspective of speculative fiction and, crucially, the memo’s closural appeal to Kafka’s “The Bucket Rider” (1917), a short story that also ends with a forward-movement into an unknown future. The core of the discussion draws attention to the ways Calvino stages classical lightness as a form of avenir, or “things to come,” a process that mobilizes the Greco-Roman past at the time of writing, as he establishes its projection onto the future. Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, on atomic motion and combination, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, on the myth-history of change from Chaos to the power of Augustan Rome, are key models in Calvino’s reading; and not only in Six Memos. In Invisible Cities (1972), lightness, or the “removal of weight,” is the value substantiating Calvino’s large-scale projection of Venice across the globe and deep temporalities. In this novel, he maps out the avenir of “light” classical forms, in connecting Homeric cityscapes, both mythical and historical, with the makings of a topography of a futuristic California. As an ensemble, both the essay and the hyper-novel articulate curious epistemologies of antiquity’s future. They call attention to the narrative capaciousness and potential of Homer’s Odyssey, as well as the nature-oriented compositions of Lucretius and Ovid. Here, Calvino relates the avenir of a highly hybrid, adaptably contiguous tradition. More pointedly, he envisages the survival of ethical literatures composed beyond Anthropocene concerns, and whose relationality with the world at large serves to give a voice to the non-human. But Calvino’s alternative histories of antiquity’s avenir are not simply an exercise of his speculative imaginary. On the contrary, they speak eloquently to the field of cultural, scientific, and technological production towards the last quarter of the twentieth century, in which vestiges of older literatures, like those of Homer, Lucretius and Ovid, are put to the test in an ever-changing world.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalCalifornia Italian Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

For special issue: Calvino’s Memo: Between the Old and the New Millennium


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