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La strada di San Giovanni When it comes to Calvino I'd always chose his innovative and magical fiction than anything non fiction but this book caught my eye and I do like him a lot so I took the plunge These five pieces or 'memory exercises' as so called do offer some indirect insights into how he conjured up his imaginary stories These writings were collected by his wife and tell of his difficult relationship with his father who was a farmer and horticulturist and had a passion for studying and acclimatizing exotic wildlife which filled the young Calvino with an investigative mind He also recalls his love for cinema before a graphic account of fighting fascists during the Second World War that becomes a sort of meditation on the role played by imagination in the human memory There was one piece where he analysis living in a house in a Parisian suburb which was good The book overall was OK but nowhere as good as the best of his fiction “The Road to San Giovanni” consists of five “memory exercises” I found each of these chapters were written in a very different manner and strangely arranged in a seuence from the most sentimental to the most analytic In that I mean that the first three exercises were descriptions of things that had happened in the author’s life and the last two are commentary based on reflection and analysis The end posts here are mostly written fragments The first exercise the title story is long descriptions often long sentences with thoughts running together describing the author’s childhood taking trips up a mountainside to the family garden There’s a lot of description here but it is run together so as to make reading a chore It’s as if the author wanted to save his thoughts as rapidly as possible but using the most poetic wording he could The second exercise describes the author’s cinema experiences as a child and young man Here the writing is like a typical short story and there’s than just description – some analysis is done concerning things like the impact of poorly dubbing English pictures had on later Italian movies The third exercise concerns remembering a battle in WWII where the author seems to remember about what happened after some reflection The fourth piece is about garbage cans and the act of disposing household garbage Calvino dives into this one with gusto and compares the French and Italian methods of garbage disposal and how society seems to like similar “agreeable” garbage containers A fun analysis but in the end it seems to be just an exercise when it could have been The last bit called From the Opaue is indescribable It purports to be about seeing at different levels but other analogies like a theater and a landscape are drawn into the writing This is written as snippets of what I’d call pseudo logic unpunctuated paragraphs of writing that sounds like it was lifted from a philosophical essay This was really overwhelming to deal with since there didn’t seem to be a purpose beyond making the snippets of text to look philosophical and academic If that’s what he was going for he got itOverall I found this a mixed bag In general I liked Calvino’s writing I did not enjoy the first or last exercises although at least I found the first to be uite poetic and revealing The middle three bits were most interesting and closest to publishable essays I found myself agreeing with the reasoning of the essay on garbage and finding it uite interesting Although I have not read other Calvino books I suspect this is not a good introduction I spent the better half of last weekend on the beach reading this book which was left behind in the house where I was staying It consists of a series of provocative vignettes that approach memoir or memory exercises as Calvino called them I re read many of the masterful sentences in this collection impressed obsessed even with the powerful ideas underlying itCalvino plays with the very idea of memoir and of memory itself When he recalls a battle he begins with an extended metaphor of memories as sediment buried under a riverbed He acknowledges the problems inherent in unearthing them To explain his memories of war would be to bury them again under the sedimentary crust of hindsight the kind of reflections that put things in order and explain everything according to the logic of past history This seems the defining problem of collective memory or history as professors like to call itCalvino also struggles to represent figures from his past In the title exercise he describes his father who espoused vast botanical knowledge Instead of the taxonomical names his father taught him Calvino recalls fantastical names for the plants and then reveals his dilemma about recounting details that he never paid attention to in the first placeThe problem of personal memory What do we tell ourselves that we remember? What do we tell ourselves to remember?Another piece recalls his boyhood days at the cinema and how they transformed under fascist rule It is a beautiful nostalgic essay For me it's foremost a reflection on how regimes that limit the individual’s experience with art can also oppress the imaginative space It reminds us that cinema plays a political role in helping us to transcend reality to believe in what lies beyond the physical boundaries of a tangible worldThe artistry of his prose is apparent almost everywhere I am tempted to dwell on his awesome use of free modifiers what Virginia Tufte would call branching sentences but I don't want to be a grammar Nazi; Calvino was distinctly anti Fascist How much of this is owed to the art of the translator I can't be sure Even Calvino's father used a different one of his many tongues depending on the topic of conversation He reuired a certain language to express humor français mais oui or banality English of course Is it the translator Tim Parks for example who uses the word callow multiple times in one book and what's the word for this in Italian?On Fellini Calvino writes this which I think should be on the great filmmaker's gravestone if it isn’t already “That is why Fellini manages to disturb us to the core because he forces us to admit that what we would most like to distance ourselves from is what is intrinsically close to us”My favorite piece though is his 30something page long rumination on garbage bins It overflows with absurd free association For Calvino the act of emptying dustbins shows that the personal is political; it embodies our participation in a system and our acceptance of authority for reasons of convenience A sort of social contract theory centered on garbage if you will Trash is also existentially relevant we are what we don't throw away And for Calvino no surprise it's Marxist What we do along the chain of trash distribution defines our social and economic roles with the vividness of an orange peel or a scribbled out pageAfter reading that one I fell asleep by the water dreaming of a time when Calvino lived so that we might spend an afternoon together not remembering Like an abstract painting the final vignette places you in a realm of possibility for time and space It is like most of his work worth waking up for These memory exercises could not be called significant in my opinion though they were occasionally interesting when they weren't rambling I do not see the difference between these and ordinary literary reminiscences One might spend their time reviewing the marginalia of Coleridge or reading the literary reviews of Poe as well It is really just a matter of how obsessed a person is with Calvino's writing and the determination to read every word he wrote will be the only impetus for anyone to finish this book If you want to know about Fellini or rubbish bins give this one a perusal The weaker parts of the collection detracted from the stronger parts the latter of which were the descriptions of his father It seems to me any halfway decent writer could have written the other sections as they consisted of everyday knowledge with a few personal details about Fellini and Italian countrysides and cinema thrown in culminating in well expressed sentiments of a mundane and uninspired natureFor Calvino PhD students only Hard to rate this as it's a personal intimate introspective entry Those who start reading and are interested in connecting to Calivino in this way which certainly will not be everyone will adore the entire thing as I did and find their own existential narrative activating The first two memory exercises were amazing The first is a piece of his father walking to and from the fields The second essay was about watching American films as a kid in Fascist Italy Wonderful The third piece about not really rememberinga battle during WW2 was good The last two were so dull I don't even remember them Weigh it all out and it is worth a good deal for the good parts 25 3 That last essay was just too opaue for me ; A major testament by an essential 20th century writer composed of five strikingly elegant memory exercises about his life and work now available in paperback With visionary passion the author traces pieces of his childhood and adolescence his experiences during WWII and Storytelling at its best Chicago Tribune I have missed Calvino This is a miscellaneous collection but the essays all touch on the impermanence of life and memory in a way that gives the book an atmosphere of its own outside of the content of each individual piece It results in an almost haunting feeling haunting because of how beautifully Calvino expresses memories of a time and place that no longer exist His writing has a particular feeling or spirit to it that is hard to describe but always beautiful and immersive NotesTalking to each other was difficult Both verbose by nature possessed of an ocean of words in each other’s presence we became mute would walk in silence side by side along the road to San Giovanni To my father's mind words must serve as confirmation of things and as signs of possession; to mine they were foretastes of things barely glimpsed not possessed presumed My father's vocabulary welled outward into the interminable catalog of the genuses species and varieties of the vegetable world — every name was a distinction plucked from the dense compactness of the Forest in the belief that one had thus enlarged man's dominion — and into technical terminology where the exactness of the word goes hand in hand with the studied exactness of the operation the gesture pg 10In short all he wanted was a sign that civil cohabitation was possible in this world of his a cohabitation prompted by a passion for improvement and informed by natural reason; but then he would immediately be oppressed again by reminders that all was precarious and beset by danger and once the fury was upon him And one of these reminders was myself the fact that I belonged to that other metropolitan and hostile part of the world the painful awareness that he couldn't count on his children to consolidate this ideal San Giovanni civilization of his which thus had no future So that the last stretch of the path was covered in an unwarranted hurry as though it were the edge of a blanket he could used to talk himself away inside San Giovanni pg 25Those baskets seemed insignificant then as the basic materials of life always seemed banal to the young yet now that I have but a smooth sheet of white paper in their place I struggle to fill them with name upon name to cram them with the words and in remembering and arranging these names I spend time than I spent gathering and arranging the things themselves passion — no not true I imagined as I set out to describe the baskets that I would reach the crowning moment of my regret and instead nothing what came out was a cold predictable list and it's pointless my trying to kindle a halo of feeling behind it with these words of commentary all remains as it was then those baskets were already dead then and I knew it ghosts of a concreteness that had already disappeared and I was already what I am a citizen of cities and of history — still without either city or history and suffering for it — a consumer — and victim — of industrial products —a candidate for consumerism a freshly designated victim — and already the lots were cast all the lots our own and everybody else’s yet what was this morning fury of my childhood the fury that still persists in these not entirely sincere pages? Could everything perhaps have been different — not very different but just enough to make the difference — if those baskets hadn't even then been so alien to me if the rift between myself and my father hadn't been so deep? Might everything that is happening now perhaps have taken a different slant in the world in the history of civilization — the losses not have been so absolute the gains so uncertain? pg 29 30And everything that once was is gone everything that seemed to be there but was already only an illusion an unaccountable stay of execution pg 31So what had the cinema meant to me in this context? I suppose distance It satisfied a need for distance for an expansion of the boundaries of the real for seeing immeasurable dimensions open up all around me abstract as geometric entities yet concrete too crammed full of faces and situations and settings which established an abstract network of relationships with the world of direct experience pg 60With the result that when I empty the small bin into the big one and lift it up by its two handles to carry it out of our front door though still functioning as a humble cog in the domestic machine I am nevertheless already taking on a social role; offering myself as the first link in the chain of operations crucial for collective cohabitation I am confirming my dependence on the institutions without which I would die buried under my own rubbish in the snail shell of my individual existence at once introverted and in than one sense autistic Is the departure point for proper clarification of the reasons that make my poubelle truly agréée acceptable in the first place to me even if not pleasant as one has to accept the unpleasant without which none of what pleases us would have any sense pg 98It was no doubt his obedience to Christian precepts which brought my friend to accept this role uite happily And me? I would like to be able to say with Nietzsche “I love my destiny” but I can't do that until I have explained for myself the reasons that have led me to love it Carrying out the poubelle agréée is not something I do without thinking but something that needs to be thought about and that awakens the special satisfaction I get from thinking pg 101A rite of purification the abandoning of the detritus of myself and it doesn't matter whether we're talking about the very detritus contained in the poubelle or whether that detritus refers us back to every other possible detritus of mine; what matters is that through this daily gesture I confirm the need to separate myself from a part of what was once mine the slough or chrysalis or sueezed lemon of living so that its substance might remain so that tomorrow I can identify completely without residues with what I am and have Only by throwing something away can I be sure that something of myself has not yet been thrown away and perhaps need not be thrown away now or in the future The satisfaction I get out of this then is analogous to that of defecation the feeling of one's guts unburdening themselves the sensation at least for a moment that my body contains nothing but myself and that there is no possible confusion between what I am and what is unalterably alien Alas the unhappy retentive or the miser who fearing to lose something of his own is unable to separate himself from anything hoards his faeces and ends up identifying with his own detritus and losing himself in it pg 103Here we arrive at the economic crux of what I have hitherto chosen to refer to judicially as a contract and symbolically as a right my relationship with the poubelle is that of the man for whom throwing something away completes or confirms its appropriation my contemplation of the heaps of peels shells packaging and plastic containers brings with it the satisfaction of having consumed their contents while for the man who unloads the poubelle into the rotating crater of the dust cart it offers only an idea of the amount of goods which are denied to him which reach him only as useless detritus But perhaps and here my essay glimpses an optimistic conclusion intermediately succumbs to the temptation perhaps this denial is only temporary is having been taken on as a dustbin man is the first step opus social ladder that will eventually make today's pariah another member of the consumer society and like everybody else a producer of refuse while others escaping from the deserts of the “developing countries” Will take his place loading and unloading the bins pg 110All that's left me and belongs to me is a sheet of paper dotted with a few sparse notes on which over the last few years under the title La Poubelle Agréée I have been jotting down the ideas that cropped up in my mind and that I planned to develop at length in writing theme of purification of dross throwing away is complementary to appropriating the hell of a world where nothing is thrown away one is what one does not throw away identification of oneself rubbish as autobiography satisfaction of consumption defecation theme of materiality of starting again agricultural world cooking and writing autobiography as refuse transmission for preservation and still other notes whose thread and connective reasoning I can no longer make out theme of memory expulsion of memory lost memory pg 125


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