Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Our Text for Today

Italo Calvino on "Exactitude" from Six Memos for the Next Millennium

"First I shall try to define my subject. To my mind exactitude means three things above all:

1. a well-defined and well-calculated plan for the work in general

2. an evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual images: in Italian we have a word that doesn't exist in English, "icastico"...

3. a language as precise as possible both in choice of words and in expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination.

Why do I feel the need to defend values that many people might take to be perfectly obvious? I think that my first impulse arises from a hypersensitivity or allergy. It seems to me that language is always used in a random, approximate, careless manner, and this distresses me unbearably. Please don't think that my reaction is a result of intolerance toward my neighbor: the worst discomfort of all comes from hearing myself speak. That's why I talk as little as possible. If I prefer writing, it is because I can revise each sentence until I reach the point where -- if not exactly satisfied with my words -- I am able at least to eliminate those reasons for dissatisfaction that I can put a finger on. Literature -- and I mean the literature that matches up to these requirements -- is the Promised Land where language becomes what it rally ought to be.

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 affecting 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 expresssiveness, extinguishing the spark that shoots out from the collision of words and new circumstances."

Written in 1985 in the months leading up to Calvino's death.


Keifus said...

I've been meaning to read more Calvino for, geez, about 15 years or so. More (or again) now.

Needless to say, apt quote for any poster.


august said...


Read Cosmicomics. It's genius.

Writing's hard. What happened to Agony Cafe?

Keifus said...

I have, about fifteen years ago (though I've re-read sections on occasion.) It's what got me thinking that I should...