Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Italo Calvino: immeasureable goals; dare

*Invisible Cities* Stephen Nova, Melbourne
I'm thinking of discoveries I've made while standing on an old crate. I'm spying over a wooden fence into a private garden lush and inventive. It's impossible to remember each quiet invention hidden in every town or city I've strolled in, as it's impossible to remember every painting I've ever studied in museums or galleries.

To continue.  As much as I appreciate tidy rows of vibrant colors in the careful suburban garden, it is the small strange garden with sculpture and bloom in odd, compelling symbiosis which achieves an immortality of spirit. An originality.

I suspect that style of art is what Italo Calvino is calling out and calling for. He is challenging writers to originality by way of grand scheme.  In "Multiplicity," the last of his six Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard, he praises the overreach.

I am attentive to Calvino's challenge. The art, result, product may be eccentric rather than grand classic writing.  He doesn't say that, I do. "Grand" and "classic" signal brilliantly inventive writers, Dante, Rabelais, Joyce, writers signaling us to make it if not new, at least different. To try.  I have worried some of my poetry is eccentric but I suspect eccentricity is on the path to "overambitious."  I'm trying. At least I'm trying. Calvino died before he could deliver the six lectures.   

Overambitious projects may be objectionable in many fields, but not in literature. Literature remains alive only if we set ourselves immeasurable goals, far beyond all hope of achievement. Only if poets and writers set themselves tasks that no one else dares imagine will literature continue to have a function. Since science has begun to distrust general explanations and solutions that are not sectorial and specialized, the grand challenge for literature is to be capable of weaving together the various branches of knowledge, the various "codes," into a manifold and multifaceted vision of the world.

Italo Calvino, from "Multiplicity" in Six Memos for the Next Millennium (tr. Patrick Creagh; edited by Ester Calvino)

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