Friday, July 15th, 2005
While reading Calvino's Under the Jaguar Sun on the train to work this morning, I ran across the following passage:
It was his way of speaking -- or rather, one of his ways; the copious information Salustiano supplied (about the history and customs and nature of his counrty his erudition was inexhaustible) was either stated emphatically like a war proclamation or slyly insinuated as if it were charged with all sorts of implied meanings. The word "insinuated" is hyphenated after "in" and spans a page break -- for some reason when I was reading I was expecting the word to be something starting with "inter", maybe "interposed" or something -- so I unconsciously supplied the "ter" as I turned the page. With the result that the word I read, was "intersinuated". What a lovely word that would be! I have always heard "insinuate" as connoting a sort of snaky presence, a way of causing hidden concepts to slither into the meaning of your words. (I think but am not sure that an etymological basis for this impression exists.)* And changing the prefix to "inter" reinforces that I think -- not "slithering into" but "slithering among"...
Oh, and: the story is great. Quite applicable to my own consciousness.
* Ah yes, it comes from "sinus", which means "curve" like in "sine wave" -- that's where I'm getting "snake" from, it is a curvy animal.
Thursday, July 21st, 2005
I can't say for sure but If on a winter's night a traveller is sure making me want to look into that. More later, maybe.
Saturday, July 23rd, 2005
Walking down E. 3rd Street, Frank Valner was working on his forgetting exercises. The project he had been working on that day was the first thing to go, requiring practically no effort to banish from his mind; as his concentration deepened and his thoughts started to flow more smoothly, his palm lost the accustomed feeling of his mouse rubbing against it; his computer and then his desk melted into a sort of white noise. The sharp corners of his office were losing their definition, and his co-workers' faces becoming less distinct; when Meredith called to him from across the street and broke into his reverie.
Inspired by the last beginning in If on a winter's night a traveller, "What story down there awaits its end?"
Frank looked up and waved, and waited on the stream of traffic to cross the street. Shaking hands he felt a drop of rain on his wrist -- "Looks like this nasty weather is going to break," he ventured.
Meredith asked whether he had eaten yet, and they started toward Avenue B, hoping to beat the storm.
Notes on setting -- Meredith has just finished gardening at the Brisas del Caribe community garden. I think she and Frank both live in an apartment building on that block. Frank had been walking east but is now doubling back. They are going to eat at Max's, on Ave. B across from Blackout Books.
Eyes wide, Frank was taking in the details of the scene -- Meredith's brown hair flecked with grey, a smudge of dirt on her temple; the rain water washing down the large front window layered itself over the partially forgotten bulletin board in the hall outside his office. While they waited for their order, Meredith was trying to engage him.
-- And Frank was trying too, to answer her -- just stop thinking so hard, he told himself, as he focused in on an interesting crack in the plaster behind Meredith's shoulder. Wrenching himself away he asked about how her garden plot was coming along.
"Really well thanks -- did you see just now, how big the cucumbers are getting?" She was really getting a kick out of growing her own vegetables -- had looked dreamily in at the community garden all last summer and been delighted when a space opened up.
A note on what I'm trying to get across, an example that just came up -- I am confronted at work right now by an insoluble bug, a crash that occurs under one specific set of circumstances on a particular machine, but does not occur (a) under seemingly quite similar circumstances on that machine or (b) under the same circumstances on a different machine. Sez I, "Sometimes the best way to solve a bug like this is to stop thinking about it for a while [and hope it goes away, sotto voce]." And start working on a known, soluble bug in an unrelated program.
Frank had noticed the cucumbers, lovely dark green bumpy things, and they talk about that for a bit -- Meredith is thinking the harvest will be soon and would love for Frank and a few others to come over to a home-grown dinner. Frank is nervous and sweating a bit -- well, put that down to the humidity, which the air-conditioning at Max's does little to mitigate -- and is happy to see the waitress approach with plates of noodles.
Tuesday, May 5th, 2009
Exciting news comes my way today -- I had heard that a new edition of Cosmicomics was being published; today at The Quarterly Conversation, Scott Esposito has more information: the book will include Cosmicomics stories Calvino published throughout his career, more than half of which are not in the previous English edition of Cosmicomics, and 7 of which are appearing for the first time in English. (One of these was published in February at The New Yorker; and two more are in the current Harper's, only accessible to subscribers.) It has been many years since I read these stories, I'm really looking forward to rereading and to the new ones.
The moon is old, Qfwfq agreed, pitted with holes, worn out. Rolling naked through the skies, it erodes and loses its flesh like a bone that's been gnawed. This is not the first time that such a thing has happened. I remember moons that were even older and more battered than this one; I've seen loads of these moons, seen them being born and running across the sky and dying out, one punctured by hail from shooting stars, another exploding from all its craters, and yet another oozing drops of topaz-colored sweat that evaporated immediately, then being covered by greenish clouds and reduced to a dried-up, spongy shell.
Saturday, October first, 2011
Some names from WB Yeats' memory:
Came Blanaid, Mac Nessa, tall Fergus who feastward of old time slunk, Discussing "The Wanderings of Oisin," Judith Weissman calls "this list of unforgettable and irreplaceable names... the poem's most powerful passage; the names themselves call Oisin back to what he remembers..." This statement stuck in my head last night while I was reading Cosmicomics and I was struck by the incantatory nature of the names of Qfwfq's family members...
Cook Barach, the traitor; and warward, the spittle on his beard never dry,
Dark Balor, as old as a forest, his mighty head sunk
Helpless, men lifting the lids of his weary and death-making eye.
My introduction to Calvino was 14 or so years ago, on a weekend trip -- Ellen's writing group was staying for the weekend at Joyce and Jim's place in New Paltz (or, well, possibly this was when they were living in Coxsackie -- there were a number of such weekend retreats); I found a copy of Cosmicomics in the guest bedroom and spent much of the weekend holed up in there reading. It is a difficult book to put down. I started reading it again last night and am finding the stories just delightful, all over again.
I had forgotten from my previous read of Cosmicomics, what a sweet, lovable character the narrator Qfwfq is -- my memory of him was as a pretty abstract, cold presence. I take from this that my reading a decade and a half ago was less concerned with characters, with identification, and more principally so with the language and logic games that I remember well from the previous read.
That day I was running through a kind of amphitheatre of porous, spongy rocks, all pierced with arches beyond which other arches opened; a very uneven terrain where the absence of colour was streaked by distinguishable concave shadows. And among the pillars of these colourless arches I saw a kind of colourless flash running swiftly, disappearing, then reappearing further on: two flattened glows that appeared and disappeared abruptly; I still hadn't realized what they were, but I was already in love and running, in pursuit of the eyes of Ayl.
From a presentation
at Teatro Bergidum, León
(A note on rereading Calvino -- it is a pleasure to find that in his note "Why Read the Classics?", Calvino says that "classics are the books of which we usually hear people say, “I am rereading…” and never “I am reading…”")
Monday, October third, 2011
"The Spiral" is the twelfth and last story in the original Cosmicomics collection, the book Calvino published in 1965. Qfwfq has fallen in love again; this time his avatar is a proto-gastropod somewhere in the Cambrian period, with radial symmetry but with no eyes to observe his own form or that of his beloved. "Form? I didn't have any; that is, I didn't know I had one, or rather, I didn't know you could have one." But one thing leads to another as he imagines, in his eternal darkness, the millions of other suitors who must be vying for her hand, and to distinguish himself begins to secrete a shell...
But my error lay in thinking that sight would also come to us, that is to me and to her. ...I'm talking about sight, the eyes; only I had failed to foresee one thing: that the eyes that finally opened to see us didn't belong to us but to others.
Qfwfq's predicament here is cute, and funny; but what really interests me about this story is the short meditative interlude in between his decision to grow a shell and his realization that it will do him no æsthetic good -- Calvino pulls the camera way back and still speaking in Qfwfq's voice, walks through long lists of the ways that beauty manifests in our world, a Dutch girl lying on the beach, a swarm of bees following its queen, coal smoke puffing from a locomotive, histories of Herodotus and tracts of Spinoza... and states clearly that all this beauty is foretold in the first mollusc's shell. When I summarize it this way I'm not entirely sure I buy it -- but in the story it rings crystal clear.
Tuesday, October 4th, 2011
The mood of the four Qfwfq stories in Calvino's second Cosmicomics collection, Time and the Hunter (1968) is quite different -- more frantic, more insistent. There is a strong, extremely dark environmentalist element to these stories. In three of the four, Qfwfq manifests as a modern-day human -- in the previous volume, there were passing, humorous references to modernity but most of the action was focused in the geological (or astronomical) past.
Anyways: it was fun to be reading "Crystals" this morning as I rode NJTransit in to Manhattan and come across Qfwfq's description of taking
the train each morning (I live in New Jersey) to slip into the cluster of prisms I see emerging beyond the Hudson, with its sharp cusps; I spend my days there, going up and down the horizontal and vertical axes that criss-cross that compact solid, or along the obligatory routes that graze its sides and its edges.
Thursday, October 6th, 2011
Cluster of prisms seen from Hoboken
This trilogy of stories makes up the middle section of Time and the Hunter -- exploring Qfwfq's relationship with his beloved Priscilla through the eyes of the trillions of cells which make up their multicellular beings. I am finding these stories pretty difficult to process -- there is a hint of beauty and insight lurking in the text but the shrill verbosity of it is keeping me from finding any clarity. Some exceptional passages to be sure. Take for instance Qfwfq's deterministic understanding of his passions and desires as serving the needs of his cells --
This is how we live, not free, surrounded by freedom, driven, acted on by this constant wave which is the combination of the possible cases and which passes through those points of space and time in which the range of pasts is joined to the range of futures.... The ancient tide rises at intervals in me and in Priscilla following the course of the moon...
And the scene at the end of "Meiosis," the two of them as camels, is utterly fantastic.
Friday, October 7th, 2011
Cluster of prisms, rising into the sunset
The last section of Time and the Hunter, "t zero" is a great relief after the frenzied anxiety of "More of Qfwfq" and the dizzying (for me insuperable) complexity of "Priscilla." The calm voice of the narrator from the first volume is back. He wants to talk about duration here -- how events follow one another in their stream, what a slice of that stream might look like if it could be frozen in place. Less attention is paid here to character and plot -- indeed the stories in this section read more like essays than like works of fiction.
More posts about Italo Calvino
Drop me a line! or, sign my Guestbook.
Check out Ellen's writing at Patch.com.