Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Italo Calvino & the place where it always rains

I recently discovered the book "Six Memos for the Next Millennium" by Italo Calvino, the author of Invisible Cities. 

Six Memos is a book of literary essays on what Calvino identifies as "certain values, qualities or peculiarities of literature" attempting to situate them in "the perspective of the new millennium." 

These values, in Calvino's opinion, are: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity and consistency.

Calvino began writing Six Memos in 1985, as the material for his Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in 1985-1986 at Harvard University. He died a few days before his planned trip for Harvard and only five of the essays were completed at the time of his death.

Here are a few quotes from Six Memos, a thoroughly illuminating book on the art of writing:

1. Lightness:
"Maybe I was only then becoming aware of the weight, the inertia, the opacity of the world - qualities that stick to writing from the start, unless one finds some way of evading them." 

 "Conciseness is only one aspect of the subject that I want to deal with, and I will confine myself to telling you that I dream of immense cosmologies, sagas, and epics all reduced to the dimensions of an epigram. In the even more congested times that await us, literature must aim at the maximum concentration of poetry and thought."

"In Mallarmé the word attains the acme of exactitude by reaching the degree of abstraction and by showing nothingness to be the ultimate substance of the world."

4. Visibility
"There is a line in Dante  (Purgatorio XVII.25) that reads:
Then it rained down into the high fantasy"

I will start out this evening with an assertion: fantasy is a place where it rains".

5. Multiplicity
"Literature remains alive only if we set ourselves immeasurable goals, far beyond hope and achievement."


Conrad DiDiodato said...

I like Calvino on 'multiplicity', & the creative unattainability of art.

Irina M. said...

Thank you Conrad.

I went back to this chapter of the book and found the following...which appears to be 'substantiating' evidence:

'The world expands until it can no longer be grasped and knowledge, for Proust is attained by suffering this intangibility"

Conrad DiDiodato said...

There certainly is the feel of an "expanding world" as you read Proust, even if it's rendered in exquisitely crafted syntax. You do seem to suffer for chasing after it with the great novelist.

I won't try reading Proust in French: those who do say he's a tough read. I did find Calvino a bit hard going even in Italian: my textbook Italian is no match for the nuances only Italian idiom can provide.

Irina M. said...

Hello Conrad:

I somehow expected Calvino's books to be a tricky read in spite of the apparent simplicity of his narrative.

Proust is closer to poetry than prose, in my in point .... la sonate de Vinteuil

tout d’un coup après une note longuement tenue pendant deux mesures, il vit approcher, s’échappant de sous cette sonorité prolongée et tendue comme un rideau sonore pour cacher le mystère de son incubation, il reconnut, secrète, bruissante et divisée, la phrase aérienne et odorante qu’il aimait. Et elle était si particulière, elle avait un charme si individuel et qu’aucun autre n’aurait pu remplacer, que ce fut pour Swann comme s’il eût rencontré dans un salon ami une personne qu’il avait admirée dans la rue et désespérait de jamais retrouver. À la fin, elle s’éloigna, indicatrice, diligente, parmi les ramifications de son parfum, laissant sur le visage de Swann le reflet de son sourire.

From Proust: Du côté de chez Swann, Sonate de Vinteuil

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Irina, the passage from Swann is typical, and I'm amazed at how closely even an English translation reads like the French. Masterful 'periodic' style that gives pleasure the way breathing does.

I like "À la fin, elle s’éloigna, indicatrice, diligente, parmi les ramifications de son parfum, laissant sur le visage de Swann le reflet de son sourire." Wonderful image of her smile and perfume mirrored in the admirer's own face: typical Proustian effect

Irina M. said...

Hello Conrad:

Especially since the musical harmony is all ...fiction.

Thank you.

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