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Roberto Calasso. The Forty-Nine Steps. Translated by John Shepley. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. Pp. xi + 291.
There is little doubt that this is one of the most intriguing books to have been recently published. It is intriguing not only for its content, but also for its approach. The jacket blurb explains to us the meaning of the title: "'Forty-nine steps' refers to the Talmudic doctrine that there are forty-nine steps to meaning in every passage of the Torah. Employing this interpretive approach, Calasso offers a 'secret history' of European literature and philosophy ...". I believe the operative word here is secret.
For example, the first chapter, "Fatal Monologue," is a discussion of Nietzsche's philosophy and the evolution of his thought. However, it starts …