Paloma's Reviews > The Uses of Literature

The Uses of Literature by Italo Calvino
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it was amazing
bookshelves: essays, books-about-books, want-to-own-a-copy

In these essays - selected from various papers & symposiums over the course of the 1960s/70s - Calvino examines the intersections of literature with philosophy, science, psychology, and politics. He’s blazingly insightful, incredibly well-read, and has an intensely logical, mathematical way of dissecting literature.

My favorites:
Why Read the Classics? - various definitions of what makes a piece of literature a “classic”, and the role of such classics in a reader's life. "A classic,” goes one such definition, "is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say."
Cybernetics and Ghosts - thoughts about linguistics, storytelling, artificial intelligence, and the potential to mechanize the production of literature.
Levels of Reality in Literature
Definitions of Territories: Eroticism - about the treatment of sexual themes in the modern novel
Definitions of Territories: Fantasy
Right and Wrong Political Uses of Literature
The Odysseys Within the Odyssey - a short essay on folktale patterns, memory, identity, and restorative journeying in Homer’s epic

I didn't necessarily agree with everything he said (e.g. when thinking about mechanizing literature, what's with his apparent desire to erase the figure of the author and reduce humanity's role to one of passive consumption? why would this be beneficial?)... but I certainly found him very thought-provoking.

(I admit to only having skimmed most essays in the latter half of the book, as they’re all in-depth studies of books I haven’t read (yet?), and I didn’t feel I'd get as much out of them.)
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Reading Progress

April 6, 2015 – Shelved
April 6, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
April 17, 2015 – Shelved as: essays
April 17, 2015 – Shelved as: books-about-books
July 6, 2015 – Started Reading
July 6, 2015 – Shelved as: want-to-own-a-copy
July 6, 2015 –
page 11
3.23% "Now *here's* a sentence that makes me glad to live in this endlessly fascinating world:\n \n “Meanwhile, the researches of Oulipo into the mathematical structure of the sestina in the work of the Provençal troubadours and of Dante are no less austere than the studies of the Soviet cybernetics.""
July 6, 2015 –
page 13
3.81% ""[W]ill we have a machine capable of replacing the poet and the author?… I am thinking of a writing machine that would bring to the page all those things that we are accustomed to consider the most jealously guarded attributes of our psychological life... The true literature machine will be one that itself feels the need to produce disorder [avant-garde work], as a reaction against its preceding production of order.""
July 6, 2015 –
page 19
5.57% ""The power of modern literature lies in its willingness to voice what has remained unexpressed in the social or individual unconscious... The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts. Dreams of progress and reason are haunted by nightmares… [T]he triumph of the Renaissance did not slay the ghosts of the medieval world... At the height of the Enlightenment, Sade and the Gothic novel appear.""
July 6, 2015 –
page 22
6.45% ""Literature is a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own material... but it is a game that at a certain point is invested with an unexpected meaning, a meaning that is not patent on the linguistic plane on which we were working but has slipped in from another level, activating something that on that second level is of great concern to the author or his society.""
July 6, 2015 –
page 45
13.2% ""Science is faced with problems not too dissimilar from those of literature. It makes patterns of the world that are immediately called into question, it swings between the inductive and the deductive methods, and it must always be on its guard lest it mistake its own linguistic conventions for objective laws.""
July 6, 2015 –
page 73
21.41% ""[T]he pleasure of fantasy lies in the unraveling of a logic with rules... that keep some surprises up their sleeves... For me the main thing in a narrative is not the explanation of an extraordinary event, but the order of things that this extraordinary event produces in itself and around it; the pattern, the symmetry, the network of images deposited around it, as in the formation of a crystal.""
July 7, 2015 –
page 99
29.03% ""If at one time literature was regarded as a mirror held up to the world, or as the direct expression of feelings... We can never forget that what books communicate often remains unknown even to the author himself, that books often say something different from what they set out to say, that in any book there is a part that is the author’s and a part that is a collective and anonymous work.""
July 7, 2015 –
page 127
37.24% ""(3) The classics are books that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as in the collective or individual unconscious.\n \n There should therefore be a time in adult life devoted to revisiting the most important books of our youth... our encounter will be an entirely new thing.""
July 7, 2015 –
page 130
38.12% ""School is obliged to give you the instruments needed to make a choice, but the choices that count are those that occur outside and after school. It is only by reading without bias that you might possibly come across the book that becomes *your* book... There is nothing for it but for all of us to invent our own ideal libraries of classics.""
July 7, 2015 –
page 134
39.3% ""And if anyone objects that it is not worth taking so much trouble, then I will quote Cioran (who is not yet a classic but will become one): "While they were preparing the hemlock, Socrates was learning a tune on the flute. 'What good will it do you,' they asked, 'to know this tune before you die?'""
July 7, 2015 – Finished Reading

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