[NetBehaviour] Solstizio Calvino texts for this year

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Thu Jun 18 22:26:57 CEST 2020

Hi all,

Here are the text excerpts from Six Memos that I'm using for Solstizio Calvino this year.  If you would like a PDF that also includes the images I'm using, please let me know.

The basic setup for Solstizio Calvino is to set up some stones or stone-like material roughly in a circle, then put the papers inside the circle in some way, and then ask or allow people to go inside the circle, interact with the papers (or not), then exit (obviously), around the time of the summer solstice (such as June 19-21 this year).

All best regards and happy solstice,


PS -- Here is the newest version of the song I circulated recently, far from very good but hopefully better:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBL6-SZoxMs.  🙂


“On June 6, 1984, Italo Calvino [1923-1985] was officially invited by Harvard University to give the Charles Eliot Norton Poetry Lectures, a series of six talks meant to take place over the course of an academic year…. The term poetry here refers to any type of poetic communication – literary, musical, visual – and the choice of topic is entirely free….

“By September 1985, the time of his scheduled departure for Massachusetts, he had written five of the lectures.  The sixth, ‘Consistency’—of which I know only that he planned to refer to Melville’s ‘Bartleby’ – was to have been written in Cambridge…. I’ll add only that I found the typescript on his desk, in perfect order, each individual talk in its own transparent folder, ready to be placed in his suitcase.”

(Esther Calvino, 6 Memos for the Next Millennium, Preface)

“Were I to choose an auspicious image for the new millennium, I would choose that one: the sudden agile leap of the poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness, and that what many consider to be the gravity of the times—noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring—belongs to the realm of death, like a cemetery for rusty old cars.

I would like you to bear this image in mind as I proceed to talk about Cavalcanti as the poet of lightness.  The dramatis persona of his poems are not so much human beings as sighs, rays of light, optical images, and above all those nonmaterial impulses and messages he calls ‘spirits.’”

(Italo Calvino, 6 Memos for the Next Millennium, “Lightness”)

“I realize that this talk, based as it is on invisible connections, has wandered off in many directions and is risking dispersion.  But all the subjects I have dealt with this evening, and perhaps those from last time, might indeed be united in that they are all under the sign of an Olympian god whom I particularly honor: Hermes-Mercury, god of communication and mediation, who under the name of Thoth was the inventor of writing…. Mercury with his winged feet, light and airborne, astute, agile, adaptable, free and easy, established the relationships of the gods among themselves and those between the gods and men, between universal laws and individual destinies, between the forces of nature and the forms of culture, between the objects of the world and all thinking subjects.”

(Italo Calvino, 6 Memos for the Next Millennium, “Quickness”)

“Leonardo, ‘omo sanza lettere’ (an unlettered man), as he described himself, had a difficult relationship with the written word.  His knowledge was without equal in all the world, but his ignorance of Latin and grammar prevented him from communicating in writing with the learned men of his time.  Certainly he thought he could set down much of his science more clearly in drawings than in words….  And not just in science but also in philosophy, he was confident he could communicate better by means of painting and drawing.  Still he also felt an incessant need to write, to use writing to investigate the world in all its polymorphous manifestations and secrets, and also to give shape to his fantasies, emotions, and rancors—as when he inveighs against men of letters, who were able only to repeat what they had read in the books of others.”

(Italo Calvino, 6 Memos for the Next Millennium, “Exactitude”)

“Where do they come from, these images that rain down….?  Nor is it only poets and novelists who deal with this problem.  A specialist on the nature of intelligence, Douglas Hofstadter, does a similar thing in his famous book Godel, Escher, Bach, in which the real problem is the choice between various images that have rained down into the fantasy:

‘Think, for instance, of a writer who is trying to convey certain ideas which to him are contained in mental images.  He isn’t quite sure how those images fit together in his mind, and he experiments around, expressing things first one way and then another, and finally settles on some version.  But does he know where it all came from?  Only in a vague sense.  Much of the source, like an iceberg, is deep underwater, unseen—and he knows that.’”

(Italo Calvino, 6 Memos for the Next Millennium,”Visibility”)

“I have come to the end of this apologia for the novel as a vast net…. Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined?....  Think what it would be to have a work conceived from outside the self, a work that would let us escape the limited perspective of the individual ego, not only to enter into selves like our own but to give speech to that which has no language, to the bird perching on the edge of the gutter, to the tree in spring and the tree in fall, to stone, to cement, to plastic…..

“Was this not perhaps what Ovid was aiming at, when he wrote about the continuity of forms?  And what Lucretius was aiming at when he identified himself with that nature common to each and every thing?”

(Italo Calvino, 6 Memos for the Next Millennium, “Multiplicity”)

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