“All books continue in the beyond…”

Having read Calvino’s novel, “If on a winter’s night a traveler” many years ago, I felt safely forewarned and therefore, forearmed for the seemingly endless beginnings of stories, which are presented like so many Russian nesting dolls; each story opening into the next: “If on a winter’s night a traveler” opens into “Outside the town of Malbork” which opens into “Leaning from a steep slope” and so on.

The series of unfinished stories in the book at once echoes and confirms the Cimmerian professor’s statement: “All books continue in the beyond…” (71). (An unfinished statement in itself.) They step off abruptly into an invisible and unseen end, which by definition, is never-ending.

The stories start and stop suddenly; their continuations or completions are texts themselves that are apparently lost. Consequently, the narratives lose themselves in the “beyond,” yet they could also be said to be disintegrating as well, creating as one of the texts states a: “sense of loss, the vertigo of dissolution” (37).

The uncertainty or “vertigo” is discomfiting. Like Calvino’s anonymous reader, my mind reads along and is “seeking a pattern, a route that must surely be there” (27). I propose that there is a “taut trajectory” to Calvino’s beginnings, even as the stories begin to turn in on themselves, and the writers and texts interlace and become even more confused by Chapter Six (27). My desire is to discover the meaning or the purpose of the construct and experience whatever Calvino was attempting to create or communicate.

So the text is a novel adventure and accurately reflects Ludmilla’s statement: “Reading is going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be…” (72). The unfinished beginnings move towards endings that are unknown, mysterious, and therefore they draw me.

Calvino’s book is also moving towards something, that at page 125, I still do not know the destination. But I like the ride and I like my expectations being disrupted because it adds to the adventure and makes the reading exciting – instead of rout and predictable. And in this way I am realizing the “dream of rediscovering a condition of natural reading, innocent, primitive…” (92). I am reading again, for the first time.

Parallel between Calvino and Marana

As I was about to finish reading Chapter six there was a quote on page 125 about Ermes Marana that particularly stood out to me because it helped me draw a connection between Marana and Italo Calvino. In regards to Marana and the discontinuation of novels surrounding the Sultana, “You” states the following:

“Many feelings distress you as you leaf through these letters. The book whose continuation you were already enjoying in anticipation, vicariously through a third party, breaks off again….Ermes Marana appears to you as a serpent who injects his malice into the paradise of reading…..”

This is not to say that Calvino is malicious in any way, but more so that like Marana every time we become involved in a story and its characters, Calvino suddenly stops the story as it is about to reach its climax, and as soon as we are about to unveil a mystery.  Following each novel, we are then thrown back into the principal story of You and Ludmilla, which similar to the other novels we also frequently cut off from.

Much like we are left in suspense at the end of each individual story, there is a certain mystery about its characters.  Each character appears to be hiding something whether it is information, or something tangible.  Calvino never allows us, the readers; the opportunity to uncover these mysteries and/or to gain further insight into the personal lives of these individuals. In the same way, Calvino leaves us in suspense about Ludmilla and her relationship with You. After all there is a lot that we do not know about You, but in particular there is something mysterious about Ludmilla. I was able to read up to chapter seven and I was still unable to answer such questions as, why does Ludmilla hide out between the shelves of professor’s Uzzi-Tuzzi’s office?  Is she or not involved with a man? What is her relationship with her sister, Lotaria? and so on – as these questions go unanswered we continue to be left in absolute suspense not only in each new story that we read, but also in the one story that we would expect for Calvino to complete. I haven’t finished the book yet, but I would expect for these questions to be answered by the time that the book ends. I would also want for Calvino to elaborate on why he chose to withhold personal details about Ludmilla until the end of the story, that is if ever does decide to disclose this information.

At the end of it all we are similar to You in the sense that like him who is on the pursuit of discontinued novels, and of uncovering the truth behind Marana and Ludmilla, we also desire to solve the mysteries that lies in each story, as well as to  resolve the mysteries of each character. We the readers embody You as we are enclosed in-between unfinished stories and mysterious characters, while the other characters in the novel are more of a representation of Marana – mysterious and unsolved. Judging by how the novel has progresses thus far, I would not be surprised if Calvino left us in utter suspense about You and Ludmilla, just as how he has left us in suspense in every other story.

Choose Your Own Adventure. Or not.

First and foremost, I would like to revoke my “craziest book I ever read” I so unhesitatingly murmured in class and replace it with this one (that is, until I wobble over House of Leaves). I just finished reading Leaning from the steep slope, but I must admit that my bafflement started long before that. Prior to starting the novel, I was inquisitive of the translator’s note: “In Chapter Eight the passage from Crime and Punishment is quoted in the beloved translation of Constance Garnett.” As an English major, one cannot take anything at face value, right? Thus, I decided to probe the implications of Crime and Punishment in light of If on a winter’s night traveler. Would this novel reflect similarities in structure and themes? I began to wonder if I would see strings of nihilism, utilitarianism, and rationalism buried beneath Italo Calvino’s plot. In order to completely answer questions of what’s wrong here and why does it matter, I then began the novel.

The first word in chapter one is you. Calvino does not waste any time establishing a language of possession through this second-person narrative. Similar to Dostoyevsky’s duality of his third-person omniscient between Raskolnikov and other characters, Calvino’s numbered chapters are split between the thinking of you and the speaking of I. As chapter one trudged forward, I began to rely on Calvino/the narrator’s manipulation of direction for the reader. Just as Professor Sample’s The Technology of Reading recitation suggested about the Choose Your Own Adventure series, this novel reveals differences between significant or trivial decisions by selecting the moral choice for you. While the narrator allows you to chew on the more trivial options (e.g. his relationship with Ludmilla), he makes the decision that he feels best navigates through the story. Just as Lauren’s post questioned, my trust in the narrator was skim, too. Lauren’s discomfort with the several fictional authors was a concern I carried, as it issued lopsidedness in power for the reader. I felt too inferior to make decisions. I would not necessarily call this direction stifling, but I first felt uneasy being told what to observe and analyze. After reading the book-titled chapter, followed by chapter two, I began to realize that the numbered chapters did all the thinking for me. I was dumbfounded to then read Ludmilla applaud and justify my concern:

 “I prefer novels,” she adds, “that bring me immediately into a world where everything is precise, concrete, specific. I feel a special satisfaction in knowing that things are made in that certain fashion and not otherwise, even the most commonplace things that in real life seem indifferent to me” (30).

Ludmilla’s appreciation of exactness and the issue of manipulation become cyclical with my immediate reaction to themes in Crime and Punishment. Utilitarianism can be seen especially as it reflects the overall good of the society/novel (in this case the reader). Calvino employs the pronoun you in the numbered chapters to enforce a communal understanding of each previous chapter. As we also see in the bookstore, the clerk has several copies of the Bazakbal book (an indication that this is a common problem and a solution that benefits all) and responds to the narrator’s defective Calvino’s book with, “Ah, you, too?” (27). The use of pronouns, dialogue, and ambience of setting all work to achieve the greater good for the most amount of people.


Greetings, Other Readers!

I’ve just finished the chapter Without fear of wind or vertigo, and Italo Calvino’s storytelling has introduced a series of questions and critiques of the reading process that are vital to our understanding of authorship and readership. Coincidentally, these themes continue what we addressed in my last English Honors course, Reading, Rhetoric, and Embodiment with Professor Eve Wiederhold. In Dr. Wiederhold’s course we learned the methodologies of reader-response criticism and feminist theory, which Calvino appears to be drawing on when he forces us to examine the nature of reading, the choices of the Reader, the presence of the Author, and the interactions with Other Readers that inevitably shape the way we see a text. At this point, Calvino is just beginning to introduce gender issues into the story of You and Ludmilla, and I am excited to see how Calvino develops and expands on this compelling form of literary criticism. Calvino keeps bringing up the problem of translation and how it effectively rewrites a text based on one reader’s interpretation; this is an issue we addressed in Wiederhold’s course and something that Canadian author Margaret Atwood has concerned herself with for some time. While searching for a piece Atwood wrote on the subject, I instead found this article where she discusses what happens when reader subjectivity meets ebooks. Could be relevant to this course later on, or at least worth looking over.

Here are some questions Calvino’s text presented to me:

To what extent is Italo Calvino the author of all of these stories? While there are a series of ‘fictional’ authors (at least to my understanding, they are fictional), it seems to me that Calvino is the real author here and there is no mistaking that. Narratively, Calvino is able to introduce us to several different stories each with different authors; however, in my mind, I am unable to forget that Calvino is the real master of the craft, and at least for me, that somewhat muddles his project. As far as making us think about issues of authorship, Calvino is successful, but to me it would be even more provoking if there were several different stories in here that actually were authored by different people, and Calvino simply assembled them into his novel (this same issue is brought up in House of Leaves). Who, then, would be this story’s real ‘author’? How can stories have multiple authors, and to what extent should we acknowledge multiple authors and their different contributions to a text?

Another question…what is the ‘story’ here? Is it necessary to define the words ‘story’ and ‘narrative’? Calvino himself offers several different potential definitions. For example, on page  72:

“…there is a thing that is there, a thing that cannot be changed, and through this thing we measure ourselves against something else that is not present, something else that belongs to the immaterial, invisible world, because it can only be thought, imagined, or because it was once and is no longer, past, lost, unattainable, in the lead of the dead…”

To me it seems that the story is about you and Ludmilla, and your reading experiences. While the interposed short stories are all interesting, I’m waiting to see if any plot-level connections are formed between them. I’ve enjoyed reading them (mainly because of Calvino’s brilliant handle on language and metaphor), but to me it seems that if they were removed from the book I might get the same understanding of ‘you’ and Ludmilla’s struggle with the complexities of readership and authorship.

Perhaps these questions will be answered as I read on, or read the articles assigned with this week’s reading. If not, hopefully we’ll examine them in class.

Welcome to Post-Print Fiction

Broken TypewriterThis is the class blog for ENGH 400:002.

The name of the class is post-print fiction.

Nobody really knows what I mean by “post-print” fiction.

But we are going to try to find out.

Our roadmap, to borrow a metaphor, is in two parts, verso and recto, to borrow another metaphor. Verso: the course guidelines. And recto: the class calendar.

Also, delight in the 1-page visual overview to the syllabus.

(Broken Typewriter courtesy of wvs. Creative Commons Licensed)