Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, and Multiplicity are the five memos Calvino completed for the 1985-86 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at HLightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, and Multiplicity are the five memos Calvino completed for the 1985-86 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard. He died before completing the sixth memo, Consistency. The five we have are gems, and hopeful ones at that: "My confidence in the future of literature consists in the knowledge that there are things that only literature can give us, by means specific to it," he writes in a prefatory note, and proceeds to describe the qualities he values in literature.
Here are excerpts of each memo, giving a sense of the content as well as of Calvino's beautiful style and voice:
Lightness: "The De Rerum Natura of Lucretius is the first great work of poetry in which knowledge of the world tends to dissolve the solidity of the world, leading to a perception of all that is infinitely minute, light, and mobile."
Quickness: "I would say that the moment an object appears in a narrative, it is charged with a special force and becomes like the pole of a magnetic field, a knot in the network of invisible relationships. The symbolism of an object may be more or less explicit, but it is always there. We might even say that in a narrative any object is always magic."
Exactitude: "It sometimes seems to me that a pestilence has struck the human race in its most distinctive faculty--that is, the use of words. It is a plague afflicting language, revealing itself as a loss of cognition and immediacy, an automatism that tends to level out all expression into the most generic, anonymous, and abstract formulas, to dilute meanings, to blunt the edge of expressiveness, extinguishing the spark that shoots out from the collision of words and new circumstances."
Visibility: "The artist's imagination is a world of potentialities that no work will succeed in realizing. What we experience by living is another world, answering to other forms of order and disorder. The layers of words that accumulate on the page, like the layers of colors on the canvas, are yet another world, also infinite but more easily controlled, less refractory to formulation. The link between the three worlds is the indefinable spoken of by Balzac: or, rather, I would call it the undecidable, the paradox of an infinite whole that contains other infinite wholes."
Multiplicity: "Overambitious projects may be objectionable in many fields, but not in literature....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." ...more
Gene and Finny, that tree, that marble staircase. I enjoyed this much more than I did when I had to read this--when did I read this?--late junior highGene and Finny, that tree, that marble staircase. I enjoyed this much more than I did when I had to read this--when did I read this?--late junior high? Early high school? I'm sure back then I had no idea what the book was about or why Gene bounced that branch and sent Finny to a broken leg or why Finny seemed so different from the other boys at the school, so whimsically knowing in his outlook on life, especially with regard to the boys' preparation for entry into World War Two. Much better this time around....more
Wonderfully written, and a rare example of the omniscient mode in middle-grade/YA fiction, where first-person point of view has been king in recent yeWonderfully written, and a rare example of the omniscient mode in middle-grade/YA fiction, where first-person point of view has been king in recent years, it seems. The warm tone of the narrator follows a group of middle school kids, 14 years old, and some of the adults around them, as they go about their lives in a smallish town in a time before the Internet and cell phones. The narrator has a playful side, dipping briefly into the point of view of an inanimate object, such as a necklace, or animals, but two characters become slightly more prominent than the others: Debbie and Hector. The insights into the characters' lives, particularly those of the kids, proves the writer has not forgotten what it was like to be 14--in fact, she must have been taking excellent notes.
In my taxonomy of writers, there are storytellers and voice masters, the latter blessed with the ability to marry lovely, startling prose to interesting characters in offering amazing commentaries on life, while the former have a sure grasp of plot and are able to shape story arcs that seem inevitable and surprising at the same time.
Readers tend to prefer one to the other--we're all fortunate if we find the rare writer who combines both talents. I love a great story but I prefer those with a strong voice and beautiful prose; these are the books I reread, and Criss Cross falls into this category. Writers such as J. K. Rowling and, to a lesser extent, Suzanne Collins, are consummate storytellers. I enjoyed both of their series, but neither contains a single memorable sentence; once I've read their stories I don't feel the need to revisit their books. I think most people prefer the storytellers, though, to judge by the bestseller lists, and that's fine, so long as the market still has room for those whose words are more than simply a vehicle to move characters and readers from one plot twist to the next.
This graphic novel makes use of Book of Revelations and Ragnarok in its story of a world where, because super-villains have been utterly defeated, theThis graphic novel makes use of Book of Revelations and Ragnarok in its story of a world where, because super-villains have been utterly defeated, the children and even grand-children of superheroes have amorally taken to battling among themselves, almost to pass the time and for the sheer pleasure of using their amazing powers--a case of "when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers." One primary concern could be summarized as, "In a world of titans, is there any place for ordinary humans?"
The framing device of this story serves as a constant brake on any hope of generating forward movement--profluence, in the lingo of literary analysis. This frame involves the entity known as the Spectre, who observes the story in the company of a human he has chosen, one who near the end is asked to pass judgment on either the side of the humans or the super humans, so that the Spectre can deliver punishment. These two periodically comment on the action as they observe it, and as we read it, which drags the story almost to a halt on several occasions. The Spectre's dialogue has always tended toward the sententious, which doesn't help: a little Spectre goes a long way. Writer Mark Waid does work in a couple of light-hearted interludes in a Planet Hollywood-like restaurant named Planet Krypton, but the overall tone, in nearly every panel, is one of high seriousness, all freighted with life-or-death importance. More variety in tone would have made this much more engaging.
Other quarrels and quibbles: The giant plow that Superman pulls near the end of the story, on page 201, is too obvious as a symbol. And, really, what crop could possibly be planted in such deep, wide furrows?
It doesn't seem credible that Lex Luthor would so readily ally himself with Bruce Wayne/Batman, to the point where he seems more gullible than brilliant Yes, Waid lays out a plausible explanation, a version of enemy-of-my-enemy, but I didn't find it persuasive, in part because so little time is spent on it. It's rushed, in the same way that I don't know anything about those misbehaving super-projeny who are causing so much trouble; they exist as ciphers, bad-guy stand-ins.
Wonder Woman's costume. I've always had trouble with it, even as a kid: why would this ambassador from the Amazons wear a costume so obviously patterned after the American flag? And as the original feminist, it makes even less sense for her to so closely link herself to a society born out of, and primarily for, white male privilege, regardless of the strides made since. This conceptual pill is here made more difficult to swallow by artist Alex Ross's choice of costume style: the loincloth. Really? Wonder Woman is going to actively court the male gaze like this? As with so many costumes for female superheroes, but least justifiable here, it seems chosen as a way to cater to comic books' traditional demographic, the adolescent male....more
Contains two stories, "In the Line of Duty" and "Motive." In the first, two officers investigate a tip on a kidnapping case and instead encounter Mr.Contains two stories, "In the Line of Duty" and "Motive." In the first, two officers investigate a tip on a kidnapping case and instead encounter Mr. Freeze, who fills one of them. His fellow officers try to bring down Freeze before the Bat Signal brings Batman into the picture.
In the second story, the surviving partner of the team from the earlier story is still on the kidnapping case when the victim's body is found. The case slowly merges with that of a costumed arsonist called Firebug, who turns out to have employed the victim as a babysitter and killed her when she discovered his secret: he bought the Firebug apparatus on G-Bay.
In "Motive," the identity of the Firebug is easy to figure out. What's more enjoyable about Brubaker and Rucka's approach is bringing the police procedural to Gotham City, in the margins of superheroes and supervillains, and keeping the spotlight on the officers and their stories.
The art gives the pov, which sticks with the officers, and there are no descriptive panel tags other than to give the date and time of day....more
I enjoyed the structure, three story lines that merge in a pleasing way toward the end. The first involves Monkey King, a god from out of Chinese mythI enjoyed the structure, three story lines that merge in a pleasing way toward the end. The first involves Monkey King, a god from out of Chinese mythology and star of the late-16th century fictional narrative, Journey to the West; the second concerns ABC teenager Jin Wang's efforts to find his place in American society and his fragile friendship with the FOB and new at school kid, Wei-Chen Sun; and the third, American teenager Danny and his cousin, an assemblage of outrageous stereotypes named Chin-Kee. No joke--this section is titled "Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee."
Yang expertly catches the humor of Monkey King's original transgression--crashing a dinner party in heaven--which is how MK comes to serve the monk, Wong Lai-Tao on his journey to the west. Story lines two and three merge late in the book when we're shown that Danny is Jin's idealized version of himself, with Chin-Kee as the incarnation of every racist idea about the Chinese that he has internalized from his years growing up in the U.S.
Later still, very near the end of the book, Lines three and one merge, with Chin-Kee revealed as Monkey King--ever a trickster--and Wei-Chen Sun one of his own sons, having teamed up to help Jin learn how to embrace everything, Chinese and American, that makes him unique.
Yang's art is wonderful; I especially like the clouds he uses to portray one of Monkey King's amazing powers, the Cloud-as-Steed, and the lightning effect Yang uses to illustrate moments when a character has an idea or an epiphany or has made a decision and is acting upon it....more
Lyrical, sharp, beautiful writing in the service of a disturbing story. Bradfield takes the risk of stretching the voice of his eight-year-old point oLyrical, sharp, beautiful writing in the service of a disturbing story. Bradfield takes the risk of stretching the voice of his eight-year-old point of view character, Phillip Davis, and Phillip's adolescent friends--none of them sound like any kids you ever heard, I don't care how precocious. He pulls it off; he pulls off this dialogue because it's spoken by kids, not in spite of. It was a great risk to take, and he nailed it.
The language is amazing, and all in the service of the story and Bradfield's narrative goals; in fact, the language, being so at odds with the creepy and downright horrible images and episodes recounted by Phillip, creates an extra layer of dissonance and discomfort. I notice some of the Goodreads comments mark Phillip as a young psychopath, though he seems more like a sociopath to me, or, to quote the psychiatric diagnosis from near the novel's end, "paranoid schizophrenic, with delusions of grandeur and competitive reality disorder."
It's remarkable how destabilizing and claustrophobic it is to be locked into Phillip's point of view for the duration, which made it difficult at crucial moments to distinguish what was conventionally real from what was Phillip's reality. The novel nicely doubles as a Lost Planet guide to late 1980s Southern California, particularly that aspect of suburbia that can seem deficient of almost everything that makes life vital and interesting. The cigarettes, booze, and drugs consumed by young Phillip and friends is stunning.
Phillip's obsession with the fundamental forces of the universe serve to structure the book, with sections titled Motion, Light, Sound & Gravity, and so on. Here is where Bradfield's prose achieves escape velocity time and again. Even when he's using his gift with language to show the emptiness and tautology of Phillip's mother's dialogue, it's a thing of brilliance:
"In those days I thought light was layered and textured like leaves in a tree. It moved and ruffled through the car. It was gentle and imminent like snow," captures part of Phillip's early fascination with what he calls the history of luminous motion.
When he and his mother finally stop driving away from Phillip's dad and settle in one place, he goes to school. Rather than a simple statement of this fact, Bradfield colors it with Phillip's perception and vocabulary: "It was interminable day after day of vacuous and unremitting childhood, unrelieved by any useful information whatsoever. The world had closed itself around me, and threatened to teach me only what it wanted me to know."
Finally, when it comes to the gruesome, Bradfield understands the secret Hitchcock knew so well, that there is no need to hold the camera on the blood and gore. (view spoiler)[Glance at it, rather, elide the violence, and let the reader's imagination work for you. After his mother moves in with a man--a pretty good sort, it should be said, whom Phillip refers to as Pedro--Phillip arms his Oedipal complex for murder, and goes about his work like this: he doses the man's beer with Seconal and "after a while I pulled Pedro's toolbox out from under the bed where it waited for me like history....The toolbox contained hammers, screwdrivers, ratchets, Allen wrenches, hacksaws and spare, gleaming new replacement hacksaw blades....All that long night as I feverishly worked, what I wanted to do more than anything was build something for Pedro that would last forever."
Note the attention Phillip pays to the fact that Pedro's toolbox contains "gleaming new replacement hacksaw blades. He's not using them to build a birdhouse, but that is never articulated, because we are in Phillip's point of view the whole way. He's using them on Pedro, though Bradfield leaves it to the reader to infer this. (hide spoiler)] Gorgeous language, disturbing story.
One of my daughter's middle-grade summer reading selections. She's in England now, for another week, and will read this when she returns. I wonder whaOne of my daughter's middle-grade summer reading selections. She's in England now, for another week, and will read this when she returns. I wonder what she'll think of it, and what questions she'll have, and how I'll answer them. Yes, I could say, at the midpoint of the 20th century, an allegedly civilized nation went about the extermination of millions of people with scientific rigor and detachment. Much of the allegedly civilized world was complicit in this by its silence, by its refusal to accept refugees, by its disbelief. But after I say this, how to address the crucial why questions?
Even before the memoir begins, in the preface she'll encounter Wiesel's mention of his younger sister, "a well-behaved little Jewish girl with golden hair and a sad smile, murdered with her mother the very night of their arrival." The memoir proceeds quickly to a lucky survivor who tries to warn the people of Wiesel's town of what was coming, describing the trenches they dug, after which they were made to approach said trench singly to be shot and fall into their handiwork, that "Infants were tossed into the air and used as targets for the machine guns." There will be a description of the cattle car, of how many went in and how few came out. Of watching a 13-year-old boy hanged in the central plaza of Auschwitz: too light to immediately die, "he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished."
Well, it's been said before: Holocaust, Devouring, by whichever name it's called, the shiny, smooth evil of it defeats understanding....more
I thought I would enjoy this more than I did, having found Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay amazing in every way. However, Chabon'sI thought I would enjoy this more than I did, having found Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay amazing in every way. However, Chabon's only involvement here is the introduction, after which a number of artists and writers present stories of the Escapist, the hero written and drawn by Chabon's eponymous duo. The trouble seems to be that the stories here are all so brief, none has the time to develop anything more than the most obvious plot. The parts I enjoyed most were the essays written--including one by novelist Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil-- about the character and the history of the fictional publishing company that presented the Escapist stories; these essays are written as if the company, Empire Comics, and the Escapist comic book had actually existed, a conceit that's pulled off well in each case....more