Tag Archives: identity

Field of Magnetic Impulses.

12 Jan

I would like to be Mercutio. Among his virtues, I admire above all his lightness, in a world full of brutality, his dreaming imagination- as the poet of Queen Mab- and at the same time his wisdom, as the voice of reason amid the fanatical hatreds of Capulets and Montagues. He sticks to the old code of chivalry at the price of his life perhaps just for the sake of style but he is a modern man, sceptical and ironic: a Don Quixote who knows very well what dreams are and what reality is, and he lives both with open eyes.

Italo Calvino, A Hermit in Paris.

My debt to Italo Calvino, my shameless plagiarising of his device, will be obvious to anyone who has read The Castle of Crossed Destinies. Over the years, I’ve borrowed many things from him, not least my stock response on dates and parties to nerd ice-breakers such as who is your favourite Shakespeare character? and Don’t you wish some sidekicks would kick their principals off-page? What’s good for Calvino is certainly good enough for me, despite (or perhaps because of) my own lack of opinion/knowledge when it comes to the Grand Bard of Almighty Lit.

I read Castle to write a college-application essay back in high school, and it was my silver lining across a shabby six months. I was supposed to read If on a winter’s night.., which I gave up speedily enough. Castle I could begin to fathom, and I read the book like a talisman across the exam-onslaught that is 12th standard. The only chemistry I remember is my attempted synthesis of the periodic table and sundry arcana.

It was much later I read his description of the calculation behind that collection; in Memos he calls it a “fantastic iconography”, his use of the tarot-imagery within it a “machine for multiplying narratives”. What struck me then was the dexterity of the text, how every story could fold into any other, creating new polarities, new points of tension, alternate realities.

In years since, I continue to drift to him when I need someone to remind me of literature’s redemptive power.

 I’ve dipped into most of his books, but the only ones I claim to understand are Castle and (hopefully) Six Memos for the Next Millennium.

I don’t think I’ll ever “finish” reading Calvino. I don’t think I ever want to.

The artist’s imagination is a world of potentialities that no work will succeed in realising. What we experience by living is another world, answering to other forms of order and disorder. The layers of words that accumulate on the page, like the layers of paint on canvas, are yet another world, so infinite but more easily controlled, less refractory to formulation. The link between the three worlds is the indefinable spoken of by Balzac; or, rather, I would call it the undecidable, the paradox of an infinite whole that contains other infinite wholes. A writer- and I am speaking of a writer with infinite ambitions, like Balzac- carries out operations that involve the infinity of his imagination or the infinity of the contingency that may be attempted, or both, by means of the infinity of linguistic possibilities in writing.

“Visibility”, Six Memos for the Next Millennium.

Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino’s final book, is a catalogue of virtues he would like to see preserved in our millennium. It was intended to be a manual for future generations about the nature of writing: as a skill, a vocation, an enterprise. Hold steady to these questions, he tells us, keep faith in the maelstrom of your world; if these should die the world shall be a fell place indeed. He completed five of the planned six lectures: Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, Multiplicity. Of the last, Consistency, we have only the hints he buried across the span of his literary career.  Calvino was a prolific writer, and fans will know that the concept of “masterpiece” is redundant when it comes to this master of the fable. Calvino’s gift is the vignette, his best work evokes snatches of illustrated tapestry. This is the Calvino of Italian Folktales and Cosmicomics: ironic, precise, detached. Calvino, in his fiction, is an avatar of the weaver Arachne, announced with a faint cackle and the crinkle of old paper in the background.

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Lady Dragon.

10 Oct

This is the second of the mylaw.net articles on the American midterms. As usual, please head thither for links to the articles on which my analysis is based- I do believe in credit, but setting up two sets of hyperlinks is my idea of too much work. Unless I have directly quoted from the article, or otherwise think you cannot live without reading it, I have omitted the reference in this version of the essay.

I’m still glad I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton. If Hillary had won the election, every single day would be a festival of misogyny. We would hear constantly about her voice, her laugh, her wrinkles, her marriage and what a heartless, evil bitch she is for doing something – whatever! – men have done since the Stone Age. Each week would bring its quotient of pieces by fancy women writers explaining why they were right not to have liked her in the first place. Liberal pundits would blame her for discouraging the armies of hope and change, for bringing back the same-old same-old cronies and advisers, for letting healthcare reform get bogged down in inside deals, for failing to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan – which would be attributed to her being a woman and needing to show toughness – for cozying up to Wall Street, deferring to the Republicans and ignoring the cries of the people. In other words, for doing pretty much what Obama is doing. This way I get to think, Whew, at least you can’t blame this on a woman.

Whatever Happened to Candidate Obama? Katha Pollitt.

One day in 2008, we all woke up to the news that the long-suffering Hilary Clinton was capable of such gymnastics as public weeping. I am not now, and I certainly was not then, a news junkie. All the flap about Obama had passed me by entirely: wasn’t he the guy who declared his desire for the presidency on a talk show? I had assumed that Clinton was a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, that she would probably win, and the world would trundle on heedless. Washington is united when it comes to ‘security’ wonks: Blackwater, for instance, was defended by a firm run by Clinton strategist Mark Penn. In the corner of the globe that most of us inhabit, that simple truth is often all that matters.

Yet here she was, whimpering, and the election was close to a year away. India’s Indira and Germany’s Angela, it appeared, didn’t translate into America’s Hillary.

That was the day I swallowed my pride and sought education from sundry politics nerds: the mystifying distinction between primaries and caucuses, conventions and their delegations; and how, exactly, did colleges get to elect the president of a country? Most began with an admirably concise answer to the first question: they’re both dogfights for the nomination. Unfortunately, I was then at the height of my elections-are-gimmicks-and-circuses phase (which I am yet to fully recover from); and there was the predictable flame-out before the conversation could turn to other foundations of American Civics 101. The profusion of talking heads obsessed with Ms. Clinton did, however, get me interested in the interplay between feminism and electoral politics: what, really, is the price worth paying for a woman in power?

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Robbing Women and Robing Brides

31 Jul

I was miserably sick this past week, for those of you who noticed the blog silence. Antibiotics are being consumed, the appetite is yet to revive, but migraines and blistered eyes no longer conspire to keep the laptop and I at odds. I even read a book last night and it wasn’t shady bed reading. Ok, so that lasted only for an hour before I abandoned it for the pleasures of Diana Wynne Jones, but one of the few joys of sickness is the amount of slush one is permitted to consume.

This is a tentative step back into the daily grind of political comment (however tangential) because I could no longer bear the whine of my stats chart as it plummeted to numbers it hadn’t seen since the early days of june . A friend forwarded me this excellent article, and it reminded me of another essay I was once called upon to present in class. Yet another nostalgia post, this one.

The Robing of the Bride, Max Ernst.

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