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." 

2.Quickness
 "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."

3.Exactitude
"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."


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