THE BLOG
11/20/2013 10:01 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Zibaldone

2013-11-20-576pxLeopardi_Giacomo_17981837__ritr._A_Ferrazzi_Recanati_casa_Leopardi.jpg

John Stuart Mill was a prodigy who had learned Greek by the time he was three. Another less known prodigy was the l9th century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. Leopardi was the author of Zibaldone, which Tim Parks in his review essay ("The Greatest Intellectual Diary of Italian Literature," The New York Review of Books, 10/10/13) describes as being

"considered the greatest intellectual diary of Italian literature, its breadth and depth of thought often compared to the work of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche."

As Park relates, Leopardi was the son of "a minor aristocrat" who compensated for his reverse midas touch by collecting

"25,000 books (in a part of the world where books were hard to come by) and set his firstborn son to reading them."

Talk about parental baggage! Young Giacomo was literally forced to become a polyglot. However the library for all its breadth also comprised enough finitude to be mastered. Rather than courting oblivion like say Borges' "The Library of Babel", Leopardi grew up in the shadow of another metaphoric tower, a proto-Palazzo Enciclopedico, made up in that day of the accumulated classics of mankind. Now the project of collecting all the great books and making them into the core curriculum for a prodigy, would be an impossibility. There's just too much information. However, even if Leopardi's project were doable at that moment in the timeline of western culture, Parks waxes eloquently on the limitations--of knowledge itself--that Leopardi was forced to succumb to when he ways:

"Studying was the one thing he knew how to do, but the knowledge so gained only revealed to him that knowledge does not help us to live; on the contrary it corrodes those happy errors, or illusions as he came to call them, that give life meaning, shifting energy to the mental and rational and away from the physical and instinctive, where in complicity with illusion, happiness lies."

The question then is, is knowledge inversely proportional to happiness? Further does the increased information which even average men are forced to absorb today, place them that much further from the prospect of finding unselfconscious joy?

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}