Steve Donaghue at The Quarterly Conversation:
It was madness to write; it was madness to cart around Italy in an enormous wooden chest; it was madness to preserve after its creator died; it was madness to publish; it would be madness to read, and there is no word but madness for the utterly staggering task editors Michael Caesar and Franco D’Intino (and a small cadre of seven translators who, if they divided their labors equally, would each have been responsible for a chunk of text equal in length to Anna Karenina) have performed in a new book from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (whose funding of it was also madness): they have given to the world the first complete, fully indexed, and fully annotated English-language translation of the Zibaldone ever done.
It was Nietzsche (an admirer of the Zibaldone, along with Sainte-Beuve, Herman Melville, Walter Benjamin, and Samuel Beckett) who once wrote that if you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss stares into you, and the equivalent here has happened with stark inevitability: the editors have partaken in full measure of their author’s madness. Under ordinary circumstances, it might be mordantly funny to hear Caesar and D’Intino claim, of a 4,526-page jottings-book collected over sixteen years, that it’s “not directed in any teleological sense,” but such amusement dries up quick when confronted with the aggravated tone of unshared obsession:
even after publication, there was no impact on anthropologists, historians, linguists, psychologists, philosophers, political scientists, aestheticians, musicologists, and scientists, who would yet have found treasure there, anticipations and astonishing intuitions. Such obtuseness, inexplicable in itself, damaged the poet too, in the long run, if it is true that the fame of some of the great exemplars of the European canon (suffice it to mention Novalis, Coleridge, Baudelaire) rests also upon solid theoretical and philosophical writings.