• Ilan Stavans


IN THE USES OF LITERATURE (1980), ITALO CALVINO, THE Italian avant-garde writer who died in 1985, wrote: “Whom do we write a novel for? Whom do we write a poem for? For people who have read a number of other novels, a number of other poems. A book is written so that it can be put beside other books and take its place on a hypothetical bookshelf. Once it is there, in some way or other it alters the shelf, expelling certain other volumes from their places and forcing them back into the second row, while demanding that certain others should be brought up to the front.” Besides commenting on the readership a writer targets, Calvino, like T. S. Eliot in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (The Sacred Wood, 1920), offers a compelling theory on how books make history. The present, he argues, is made of current volumes, only a handful of which will survive on the hypothetical bookshelf of the future. While the past in literature is represented by a glorious display of titles that have overcome the mercilessness of time, deleted from human memory are those that, fortunately or not, succumbed to oblivion.1


Collective Identity Individual Talent Paradise Lost Heroic Poetry Satanic Verse 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Italo Calvino, The Uses of Literature, trans. Patrick Creagh (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), 81.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Kirkpatrick Sale devotes a good sixth of The Conquest of Paradise (324–70) to these repercussions.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    David Castillejo, Las cuatrocientas comedias de Lope de Vega (The Four Hundred Comedies of Hope de Vega) (Madrid: Teatro Clásico Español, 1984). See also, La decoverte du Nouveau Monde. Piece on trois actes sur Lope de Vega, preface by Afranio Peixoto (Rio de Janeiro: Atlantica, 1944).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    According to both Justin Winsor (Christopher Columbus and How He Received and Imparted The Spirit of Discovery [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1891]) and Henry Harrisse (Cristophe Colomb [Paris: E. Leroux, 1884]), it was in 1630 when the 78-page poem Tyrall of Travell, by the merchant Baptist Goodall, first appeared, containing the stanza: “Collumbus and Magellan Prowdly venetrd/Then Drake, Vespucius and our forbish enterd.”Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    According to John Noble Wilford (250), the Boston poet Phillis Wheatley, in 1775, was the first to use the name Columbia as a poetic representation of the aspirations of North Americans. Others, such as Timothy Dwight, a chaplain of the Connecticut brigade at Yale, followed.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Octavio Paz’s rich biography, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: or, The Traps of Faith [1982], translated by Helen Lane (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989). Also, Jean Franco has examined her work and that of other nuns of the colonial period in Plotting Women: Gender and Representation in Mexico (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), hereafter cited in the text.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    See John Barth, “The Literature of Replentishment,” The Friday Book (New York: Perigee Books, 1984), 193–206.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Moses M. Nagy, “Christopher Columbus in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century French Drama,” Claudel Studies 15, no. 2 (1988): 8.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Friedrich Nietzsche, Complete Works, vol. 17, edited by Oscar Levy, translated by Herman Scheffaver (London: T. N. Fovlis, 1911), 162–63.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Throughout his life, the Dominican Republic scholar Pedro Henríquez Ureña studied, sometimes in great detail, the Columbus works by José Joaquín Pérez, Rafael María Baralt, Narciso Foxá y Lecanda, Rubén Darío, José Martí, and Fray Fernando Portillo y Torres; see Obra crítica de Pedro Henríquez Ureña (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1960).Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Translated into English in 1802 as A Tale of Mystery. About Thomas Morton, see Allerdyce Nicoll, History of Early Nineteenth Century Drama, 1800–1850, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930), 50, 101, 288–9.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Peter Brooks, The Empty Space (New York: Atheraum, 1983), 9.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables, edited by Seymour L. Gross (New York: W. W. Norton, 1967), 1.Google Scholar

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© Ilan Stavans 1993

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  • Ilan Stavans

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