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Stay safe! # 46 - 5 giugno



Stay safe! # 46 - 5 giugno

Durante la chiusura al pubblico dell'Istituto, in questa pagina vi proponiamo testi e riflessioni di amici e scrittori, talvolta scritti per l'occasione, scelti ogni giorno per voi. Oggi, Valeria Vescina.

During this protracted emergency, my thoughts have wandered repeatedly to Italo Calvino’s discussion of the virtue of lightness. It is the first essay in his Six Memos for the Next Millennium (Lezioni americane. Sei proposte per il prossimo millennio): originally intended as his Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard, they were never delivered due to his untimely death in 1985. Published posthumously, they merit reading and re-reading.

Is lightness a virtue? Can it be so – for writers or anyone else – in grave times such as these? It depends on what you mean by lightness. Calvino is not talking of frivolity but of the ‘lightness of thoughtfulness […] which can make frivolity appear heavy and opaque’. He goes as far as to assert that if he were to seek an all-encompassing definition of his life’s work, it would be this: the effort to subtract weight – from characters, cities, narrative structures... Among his models of lightness are Ovid, Boccaccio, Shakespeare, Cervantes, with their depictions of characters like Perseus, the (real-life) poet Cavalcanti, Mercutio or Don Quixote. His well-wishing symbol for humanity at the dawn of the new millennium is ‘the nimble leap of the poet-philosopher who rises above the heaviness of the world, demonstrating that his gravity contains the secret of lightness, while that which many believe to be the vitality of the times, noisy, aggressive, agitated and roaring, belongs to the kingdom of death, like a scrapyard of rusty automobiles’.

Whenever the world appears to Calvino ‘condemned to heaviness’, so that he wishes he could fly like Perseus to another realm, he is not speaking of a flight from reality but of a change in approach, of an openness to perspectives and methods of taking in and testing reality borrowed from a variety of disciplines: literature, linguistics, science, anthropology and mythology amongst others. The pursuit of this kind of lightness is associated with ‘precision and determination, not with vagueness or chance’.

Although the reference to Ovid in Six Memos appears under the heading of lightness, an earlier essay by Calvino (which you can now find in Why Read the Classics) refers to the Metamorphoses as ‘the poem of quickness’, the virtue on which his second lecture is focused. An episode of Ovid’s work in which both these qualities seem to me very evident is that of Baucis and Philemon, where a myriad of small details are conveyed with exactitude (another of Calvino’s chosen literary values), speed and delicate touch: the pot shard the old woman uses to steady a table; the fresh mint she scours it with; the variety of produce the couple serve to the visiting Zeus and Hermes; the beloved goose they’d sacrifice to the gods if only the animal did not outrun them.

In these disquieting times I find that heightened attentiveness to small things reveals to me unexpected sources of serenity – and that is one reason for highlighting the story of Baucis and Philemon. It appears in Book 8 – the centre – of the Metamorphoses. And at the very centre of Invisible Cities Calvino places an emblem of lightness: the city of Baucis, high up above the clouds and built on spindly stilts. It is the ultimate invisible city: those who reach it after a long march through woodland cannot see it and do not know they have found it.

Calvino is talking of a very particular kind of lightness in writing – his lectures were, after all, about the values he prized in literature. But I find that his conception of lightness and of the other qualities he discusses in Six Memos offers rich food for thought well beyond the confines of the written page.

Valeria Vescina is a novelist, literature and opera reviewer, creative-writing tutor and the director of the Hampstead Arts Festival’s literary programme


Data: Da Ven 5 Giu 2020 a Gio 11 Giu 2020

Ingresso : Libero

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