Tag Archives: value

Calvino’s Lightness

20 Feb

The first memo of Calvino’s Six Memos for the New¬†Millennium is Lightness. Rather than explicitly or concretely defining the quality of Lightness in his own way, Calvino demonstrates Lightness employed through multiple examples of other literary works. He does, however, declare that he has come to consider Lightness a “value rather than a defect.” (pg. 3) He draws heavily on the character of Cavalcanti and the image presented by his escape from his enemies and, symbolically, death. Calvino states, in the context of Cavalcanti’s story that he is concerned with something when it maintains three characteristics:

1) when it is to the highest degree light

2) when it is in motion

3) when it is a vector of information

This image of Cavalcanti leaping over the tomb to escape is this emblem Calvino chooses for this quality. He says that the agile leap of the poet-philosopher over the grave, raising himself above the weight of the world, demonstrates that even with all of his gravity he has the secret of lightness. (pg. 12) Calvino expresses that his own discussion of Cavalcanti personally clarifies what he defines as Lightness, and that is that it goes along with precision and determination, not with vagueness or the haphazard. He supports his feelings by referencing Valery, who says that one should be light like a bird, not like a feather.

Calvino goes on th explain that Cavalcanti presents at least three senses of Lightness:

1) A lightening of language whereby meaning is conveyed through a verbal texture that seems weightless, until the meaning takes on the same consistency (pg. 16)

2) The narration of a train of thought or psychological process in which subtle and imperceptible elements are at work (pg. 17)

3) A visual image of lightness that acquires emblematic value, like Cavalcanti (pg. 17)

Calvino also emphasizes the polarity of the concept of lightness with weight and its tendency to proclaim itself throughout history. He speaks of the light end of the spectrum in reference to Cavalcanti. This tendency has tried to “make language into a weightless element that hovers above things like a cloud….” The other tendency, at the opposite end of the spectrum, is initiated by Dante in which he “tries to give language the weight, density and concreteness of things, bodies and sensations.” (pg.15)

An example of literature that I feel can capture the essence of Lightness is the poetry of Carl Sandburg. I feel a personal sense of connection to the works of Carl Sandburg because as a child I visited his home in North Carolina and have since enjoyed the simplicity and elegance of his poetry.

An example:

Between Two Hills

Between two hills

The old town stands.

And the roofs and trees

And the dusk and the dark,

The damp and the dew

Are there.

The prayers are said

And the people rest

For sleep is there

And the touch of dreams

Is over all.

Carl Sandburg

Although this is just one example of the work of Carl Sandburg, it captures the essence of all his works. His ability to lead the reader’s imagination to a place with details resembling a picture in the mind of the reader, yet retaining the feeling of weightlessness and sense of simplicity is, in my opinion, right in line with Calvino’s desire for his audience to be underwhelmed with weight or overwhelmed with lightness through the examples that he provides. There seems to be a certain sense of lifting off of each line in his poem and such strong imagery as though each line itself is its own picture that becomes part of a slowly moving movie reel or scrapbook of pictures that work together to create one cohesive collage.

I feel as though Calvino portrays Lightness through his examples of works in reference to both the literal lightness of the language and its structure, as well as the content and contextual meaning of his examples. This is why I feel that Sandburg’s work very well exemplify the quality of Lightness because of its lack of heavily weighted verbage. This has nothing to do with the length of some of his works because there are a number of lengthy poems, nor does it have to do with the subject matter because there are also a number of poems with heavier meaning . It does, however, have to do with the stylistic and syntactic elements to his works and the true genius that is common through every line of every poem.

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