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Language speaks, because speaking is its pleasure and it can do nothing else.

Penelope Fitzgerald


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Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Completist

One of the big attractions for me about reading this edition of Cosmicomics was its completeness -- all the Cosmicomics stories Calvino ever published, including seven that have never previously been translated. The collector in me loves getting the opportunity to read and reread them all at once...

And what about it? I'm nearly at the end of the book now, is it a good thing to have the stories all bundled up like this for reading together? I think it is. My memory of first reading Cosmicomics (just the first 12 stories) is of being excited and stimulated and pulled through the book -- that is very similar to what's happening this time with the 34 stories. While the first volume felt complete on its own, the subsequent additions certainly hold their own and complement it.

The newly translated stories (translated by Martin McLaughlin, who also wrote the introduction to this collection) are seven stories from the 1968 collection World Memory and other Cosmicomics Stories. They are not all in the vein of the earlier stories -- some certainly are similar, such as "The Meteorites", and some are distinctly different, such as the exquisite "Solar Storm." The title story, "World Memory" (the only one that was already translated, by Tim Parks) is a... well a sui generis story, but sort of a murder mystery. They reinforce the themes and ideas of the earlier stories, and they branch out and diverge into their own stylistic innovations and subtleties.

posted evening of October 9th, 2011: Respond
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Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Each second is a universe.

I'd like to quote at length a paragraph from "t zero," below the fold -- so we can observe and appreciate and meditate upon the crystalline beauty of the writing and of the ideas, you and I, and so that I can briefly mount one of my favorite hobby horses.

posted morning of October 8th, 2011: Respond
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Friday, October 7th, 2011

Frozen instant


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.

posted evening of October 7th, 2011: Respond
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Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Mitosis, Meiosis, Death


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.

posted evening of October 6th, 2011: Respond

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Qfwfq lives in New Jersey

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.

posted evening of October 4th, 2011: Respond

Monday, October third, 2011

Cosmifables

"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.

posted evening of October third, 2011: Respond

Saturday, October first, 2011

Qfwfq in Love


From a presentation of Qfwfq at Teatro Bergidum, León
(Autumn 2006)
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.
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.

(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…”")

posted afternoon of October first, 2011: Respond

Incantation: names in memory

Some names from WB Yeats' memory:

Came Blanaid, Mac Nessa, tall Fergus who feastward of old time slunk,
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.
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...

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.

posted morning of October first, 2011: Respond

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Cosmicomics

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.

posted evening of May 5th, 2009: 1 response

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