Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Calvino Project

Earlier today, I was scanning my bookshelves, looking for a new book to read. I reached for Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, a book that I've started casually a few times and haven't finished. However, Calvino's Six Memos For the Next Millennium was nearby. Feeling ambitious, I decided to re-read Six Memos as an introduction to Invisible Cities.

First, a quick summary. Six Memos started as a series of lectures by Calvino, outlining what he thought were the most important themes that would guide literature into the twenty-first century (this was in 1985). They are: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity (he died before writing on consistency). I plan to explore how these ideas correlate with Invisible Cities, and I re-read the opening chapter, "Lightness." Thanks to the beauty of literary theory, my literal reading of a select passage brought to mind two modern authors.

"We might say that throughout the centuries two opposite tendencies have competed in literature: one tries to make language into a weightless element that hovers above things like a cloud or better, perhaps, the finest dust, or, better still, a field of magnetic impulses. The other tries to give language the weight, density, and concreteness of things, bodies, and sensations (Calvino 15)."

Language as a "weightless element" immediately invoked minimalism for me, with the first example being Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Choke). Language with "weight, density" makes me think of David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest, Consider the Lobster). True, this probably wasn't what Calvino had in mind (his examples run more along the lines of mythology, Dante, and Cavalcanti).

My point is that my project began with two books by one author, yet led me to ideas for future blog posts that will include even more writers. I'm not trying to get too far ahead of myself. The next post(s) will primarily be on Invisible Cities and Six Memos.

I'm sure Calvino would be pleased that literature (not necessarily his own) is still this thought-provoking in the new millennium. If more ideas and authors come to mind, the essay "Multiplicity" should be a good workout.

Work Cited:
Calvino, Italo. Six Memos For the Next Millennium. Copyright 1988, the Estate of Italo Calvino.

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