Roberto Calasso, LITERATURE AND THE GODSRobert. , $22 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41138-0

"One way or another, the world will go on being the place of epiphanies," says literary theorist Calasso (Ka; The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony) in this impressive, weighty and succinct work based on his Weidenfeld Lectures at Oxford last year. Calasso argues that literary texts have always had a religious dimension, whether overtly (as in Homer) or covertly (as in Borges). In the modern era, pre-Christian deities, though often seen as "fugitive guests of literature," have weighed in heavily, asserts Calasso. He elucidates their none-too-obvious influence in a variety of works, both Western and non-Western, from Vedic verse ("the first example of the worship of form") and the Romantic prose of Nietzsche, to the modern poetry of Mallarmé and even the postmodern prose of Nabokov. Calasso sees the 19th century as "the heroic age of absolute literature," which embodies "a knowledge that one assimilates while in search of an absolute, and that thus draws in no less than everything... unbound, freed from any... social utility." Married to certain aesthetics, specifically from German Romanticism through Symbolism, he dismisses much 20th-century poetic experimentalism—"embarrassingly labeled as 'modernism' or 'the avant-garde' "—for its "aggressive, disruptive forms." Regardless of literary preference, his gorgeous, vivid turns of phrase are a pleasure, and Parks's translation retains Calasso's grace and poise, doing justice to his lovely metaphors ("literature can become an effective stratagem for sneaking the gods out of the universal clinic and getting them back into the world, scattered across its surface where they have always dwelt"). Scholars and general readers of world literature and religion will enjoy this rich, poetic contribution to literary theory, and to poetics in particular. (Mar. 21)