His last book was in the mail on Monday, a small memory marked by great admiration and love for Roberto "Bobi" Bazlen, the writer and Germanist from Trieste, who has been an editor for the publisher Einaudi Recommendations, born out of the resistance, since the 1950s had written for German-language books.
This curious Bobi Bazlen had founded the publishing house “Adelphi” together with Luciano Foa, which Roberto Calasso had managed since 1971 and until his death - for me the best (middle) European publisher ever.
The first big act of the young publisher, who spoke half a dozen languages, was a bang: he announced the critical edition of the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, edited by the philosophers Giorgio Colli and Massimo Montinari, who both had access to the archives in Weimar. Calasso was actually an English graduate. He had received his doctorate in Rome from Mario Praz, the author of the standard work on "Black Romanticism", and he was familiar with every detail of Anglo-American literature and philosophy. He was one of the lucky ones who came up with the right quotes during the conversation: from Shakespeare's sonnets to Derek Walcott, he had it all present. One could learn more from talking to this universal genius than from most other publishers put together - even if he never said a word about advances,Agents or the imponderables of the market.
An educated, witty literary connoisseur
His mother's interest in German literature, which soon received a prominent place in “Adelphi”, was touching: his love for Robert Walser at a time when only a few loved this Swiss author was touching and connected him with the lifelong Walser Reader Elias Canetti, whose works have also been published by Adelphi. As is well known, it is only a step from Canetti to Franz Kafka and Karl Kraus, whose works Calasso had translated for Adelphi - but also to Dr. Daniel Paul Schreber, to whom both Canetti and Calasso devoted extensive studies. In general, his fascination was with the idea of a Central European literature, which was cultivated in his program: By Thomas Bernhard and Ingeborg Bachmann (with whom he had a long friendship),Wittgenstein and Hofmannsthal to Alexander Lernet-Holenia and Danilo Kiš or Sandor Marai and Milan Kundera (who first had his last books published in Italian by Adelphi). It's the smartest program that doesn't have memoirs and other bells and whistles.
In addition to his publishing work, Calassos created extensive essayistic work that has earned him recognition all over the world: his stories in which he commented on the great world mythologies from the Indians to the Greeks and thus founded a genre of his own; Most recently, the book “The Heavenly Hunter” appeared, brilliant essays on European literature and intellectual history. Yes, he even mastered a genre feared by many publishing colleagues such as the blurb to perfection. He has collected a selection of his so-called laundry slips in a book: “A hundred letters to an unknown reader” - the “one-sided” mini-essays show the educated, witty literary connoisseur who respects and treats each of his books with respect.
So now he's dead too. But his example of what a publishing house could look like in the 21st century remains. For me it is certain that he - the Gitanes smoker - will continue his work in heaven too, with Borges as chief editor.