Monday, January 14, 2008

COSMICOMICS, by Italo Calvino

Another laborious plodder, for me. I found it abandoned with a pile of books on a street corner, and picked it up because I remembered IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT A TRAVELER (another Calvino book) as a fairly intriguing read. This book, a collection of stories based on individual scientific statements regarding the nature of the universe, had moments that pulled me in, but plenty of other moments that I slogged through in hopes of getting on to more enjoyable stuff. In the end, there was more slogging than enjoying.

Like WINTER'S NIGHT, this book launches past logic and into the realm of abstraction. Most of the stories are told by Qfwfq, an average bloke who's been present since the dawning of time, when all of the Universe was contained within a single point. Sometimes he's anthropoid in form, othertimes he's a dinosaur or a mollusk, but throughout it all Qfwfq relates completely impossible situations in a way that emphasizes the humanity of the characters involved (their yearnings for love, their jealousies). At its best, in stories like "The Distance of the Moon" (in which the moon orbits closely enough to earth to allow people to leap up onto it), the stories are delightful fantasies, with whatever crazy idea the author comes up with getting the "real" treatment, no winking involved. At it's worst, the stories fall into a sort of neurotically-conscious description of the that which is unknowable. Here's an example:

"In short, there were no limitations to my thoughts, which weren't thoughts, after all, because I had no brain to think them; every cell on its own thought every thinkable thing all at once, not through images, since we had no images of any kind at our disposal, but simply in that indeterminate way of feeling oneself there, which did not prevent ourselves from feeling equally there in some other way."

Ambiguous and convoluted enough for you? Yes, very.

Apparently Calvino finds this sort of thing, this tedious rationalization of a contradiction that can only be accepted by forsaking logic, to be a jolly good time. I don't find it to be such. My favorite part of this book was the end, not because it was particularly good, but rather because it was particularly final.

No comments: