An Element of Impossibility

calassoYesterday I came across an admirable plan to read each book of the Biblioteca Adelphi. That is 653 books published to date. It is no less absurd that the notion I’m contemplating to read the Seagull Books backlist from the beginning to present day, a more modest catalogue of 400-odd books. You can follow Karen Barbarossa’s journey.

Adelphi Edizioni in Milan is a remarkable publisher. A Twitter acquaintance, not given to hyperbole, said she’d ‘consider being published by them a higher honour than the Nobel Prize.’ Singular writer Roberto Calasso has worked for the firm since its founding by Roberto Bazlen in 1962 and became its Chairman in 1999. Discovering Karen’s plan led me to read Calasso’s The Art of the Publisher. The following are from the first essay Publishing as a Literary Genre:

“. . . a good publishing house is unlikely  to be of any particular interest in economic terms.”

“It would appear that a publishing business can produce substantial profits only on condition that good books are submerged beneath many other things of very different quality.”

Aldus Manutius “was the first to imagine a publishing house in terms of form. Form is crucial, first of all, in the choice and sequence of titles to be published. But form also relates to the texts that accompany the books, as well as the way in which the books are presented as objects.”

” . . . all books published by a certain publisher could be seen as links in a single chain, or segments in a serpentine progression of books, or fragments in a single book formed by all the books published by that publisher.”

” . . . literature loses all of its magic unless there’s an element of impossibility concealed deep within it.”

I’ve been hoping for some years that Bobi Bazlen’s Writings, letters and notebooks for the most part, find an English translator, perhaps even a Seagull Books venture, and continue to contemplate my Seagull Project.


Author: Anthony

To quote Samuel Beckett's letter to Thomas MacGreevy (25 March 1936), 'I have been reading wildly all over the place'. Time's Flow Stemmed is a notebook of my wild readings.

12 thoughts on “An Element of Impossibility”

    1. I’m merely contemplating a Seagull Project, Caille, but Karen is underway with the monumental Adelphi Project involving multiple languages and almost twice as many books if you include contextual reading.

      1. Seagull is so very interesting, amazing authors. I look forward to your Seagull project. Thanks for writing about The Adelphi Project. It seems, like you, we are both voracious readers. The construct of this path makes for an interesting reading plan, although I still get sidetracked at times by books not relevant to this, the forcing function of this constraint also has much to teach me, mostly about myself.

        The Bazlen I should read over the winter, with where it is in my tentative schedule. I will likely translate it, so perhaps if I like the shape of it, I’ll send you the draft. I do translate for pleasure, rarely for public, however it is a shame the Bazlen in particular has never, as far as I know, been available in English.


  1. I do love your attraction to reading projects on the grand scale, even if it is in imagining the project that the true pleasure lies. With respect to Calasso, I can’t help but think of his book about book blurbs (an Adelphi publication as yet untranslated) that Daniela Cascella wrote about for 3:AM last year. I had a few much more manageable reading projects in mind this year (most notably a Wittgensteinian inspired fiction project) but of course my parents’ deaths have turned my focus to a much larger, yet undefined, intention to maintain a literary mourning diary of the books, passages, and other reading that strikes me over the next year.

    I must say that I am always greatly inspired (comforted even) by the idiosyncratic way you allow your own reading to guide you from book to book.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and for the mention of Daniela Cascella’s piece, which I missed so will track down as part of a Calasso project. I look forward to your Wittgensteinian fiction project if you decide to proceed. I’ve been contemplating this Seagull project for a while, a publisher in every way comparable to Balzen’s Adelphi in mission; there are some complexities involved but hopefully they are not insurmountable.

  2. I love your choice for the title of this post, and how the title relates to the content in the first and second half. I thought that was really creative.

    There are many readers whose blogs and lists I use as a guide or inspiration, yours included, but I try not to follow any one list too rigidly. There’s all of those undiscovered wonders off of the paved road. 🙂

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