Tag Archives: Italo Calvino

Review: Six Memos For The Next Millennium


Six Memos For The Next Millennium
Six Memos For The Next Millennium by Italo Calvino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Six Memos For The Next Millennium” by Italo Calvino is a collection of five Charles Eliot Norton Lectures written in 1985/1986 about what should be cherished in literature with intriguing titles:
1 – Lightness,
2 – Quickness,
3 – Exactitude,
4 – Visibility,
5 – Multiplicity
and the never written memo “6 – Consistency”.

In my opinion these lectures transcend “Goodreads”, these lectures are a must-read for every serious writer and reader!

The third memo by Italo Calvino – Exactitude – begins as follows:

“For the ancient Egyptians exactitude was symbolised by a feather, that served as a weight on scales used for the weighing of the Soul. This light feather was called “Maat” (also the Dutch word for measure) – Goddess of the scales”.

Italo Calvino begins his memo on “Visibility” with the verses:

“Then rained down into the high fantasy…”.

According to Italo Cavino:

”Rains the “Visibility” – or images – down from heaven; that is, God sends them to the people”.

As clarification of imagination, Italo Calvino quotes the following lines from the Purgatory by Dante:

You, imagination, that prevented us
Many times to perceive the world,
Although around may sound a thousand cymbals

What moved you, outside our sense?
A flash of light, created in heaven,
By itself, or by the will of God.

This is Italo Calvino’s testimony on literature in our Western contemporary world rooted in Christianity.

Highly recommended.

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Five common realities – facts en logic 17


Carla, Man and the Narrator meet at seven o’clock in the evening on the Piazza della Repubblica..

“In this part of Florence we see exceptionally lush fashion in most beautiful shop windows. We have hardly discussed contemporary wealth and luxury. May I invite you for a luxurious dinner tonight? Narrator, do you know a good modern restaurant for the last supper on this part of our Odyssey?”, asks Man to Narrator.

“Nearby – on a courtyard of a Palazzo – is a very good contemporary restaurant of a worldwide chain with a menu of relatively simple Italian dishes made with quality local ingredients. A few days ago I had lunch there with an Italian friend on his invitation; the dishes are exceptional”, says Narrator.

“May I invite you to go there”, says Man.

“It is a pleasure to accept your invitation. I come back on what we did not discuss and see during our stay in Florence. We have not seen how ordinary people live, work and think in this city; this is mainly because I only speak a few words Italian. We have visited the many sights in this city volatile – or not at all. In this city we might easily accomplish a seven-year Odyssey to “facts and logic” in our search for “Who are you”. On the other hand, within our limitations we have seen an awful lot. What do you think?”, says Carla.

“Through this gate we enter the courtyard of the Palazzo. Man, did you already read the “Six memos for the next Millennium” by Italo Calvino? Maybe we can use the titles of the six memos as a beginning for looking back on our visit to Florence; a visit that includes a large part of the history of mankind”, says Narrator.

Feiten en logica 17a[1]

“We are early for diner, where shall we sit, inside or outside?”, says Man.

“I like the cosiness of a real table”, says Carla.

“Then we will request a table inside”, says Man.

After ordering their dishes, they continue their discussion.

“Coming back on the titles of the six memos: I think we may agree that “Lightness” and “Quickness” are applicable on the way we have covered “Facts and logic” in Florence. What do you think of the third title “Exactitude”? Have we met this title?”, asks Carla.

“The third memo from Italo Calvino begins as follows:

For the ancient Egyptians exactitude was symbolised by a feather, that served as a weight on scales used for the weighing of the Soul. This light feather was called “Maat” [2] – Goddess of the scales.” [3]

Feiten en logica 17b.jpg[4]

Then Italo Calvino aims to define “Exactitude”:

“To my mind “Exactitude” means three things above all:

  1. A well-defined and well-calculated plan for the work in question;
  2. An evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual images (εικαστικοσ ín Greec) and
  3. A language as precise as possible both in choice of words and in expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination.

Within the limitations of “Lightness” and “Quickness” we have – in my opinion – satisfied these criteria during the discussions regarding “Facts and logic”. There is our starter. Enjoy your meal”, says Man.

feiten en logica 17c[5]

“Enjoy your meal”, says Narrator.

“Enjoy your meal. I agree with you that – in our opinion – these criteria are met, but others should determine within their framework and with their background whether – in their view – these criteria are met”, says Carla.

“That’s right. I am satisfied, but my father would have told a different story about “Facts and logic” as the manifestation of the “All-encompassing One”, that certainly would have perfectly met these three criteria. Within our framework and our background we have excellent met the titles of the fifth memo “Multiplicity” and the sixth – never written – memo “Consistency”; others should look for themselves whether our report does meet multiplicity and consistency. I’m not sure if we have done right to the title of the fourth memo “Visibility”. Of course we have had a very rich impression of sights in Florence and we have given these impressions a visible place within the framework of “Facts and logic”, but in the context of “Intensities and associations”, an additional completions is necessary to fully meet “Visibility”, zegt Narrator.

“Italo Calvino begins his memo “Visibility” with the verses:

Then rained down into

The high fiction of mind

of rising people[6].

These verses come from the part of the Wrathful and Rebellious in the Purgatory by Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy”; the last line I have added myself. Reading the Wrathful from this part of the purgatory I must think of two verses from Ephesians 4: 25-32 – a letter from Paul on unity and diversity – from the New Testament: “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still wrathful” and “Be kind, compassionate and forgiving on each other“.

According to Italo Cavino: ”Rains the “Visibility” – or images – down from heaven; that is, God sends them to the rising people”. As clarification of imagination, Italo Calvino quotes the following lines from the Purgatory by Dante:

You, imagination, that prevented us

Many times to perceive the world,

Although around may sound a thousand cymbals

 

What moved you, outside our sense?

A flash of light, created in heaven,

By itself, or by the will of God. [7]

Imagination includes science, the mind of the Warrior, mercy and compassion. Reading a flash of light and heaven, I had to thinking of the pearls game within Indra’s Net.

In Florence we have seen the world of Scholasticism changing into the imagination of reason and of the individual, with new possibilities and limitations. The mind of the warrior had adapted itself to the new conditions: the individual warrior fought no longer for overall glory of his society, but fought for glory of himself and his progeny.

In Amsterdam – during “Intensities and associations” on our Odyssey to “Who are you” – I expect to perceive the imagination during and after the Reformation – and the iconoclastic in response to Scholasticism and the excesses of the Renaissance – of the rebellious in Holland. “Then rained down into the high imagination of rising people”:

  • a direct relation with God within a compartmentalised society;
  • an unprecedented imagination in painting linked to an iconoclast within the religion;
  • a wealth, small-mindedness and embarrassment obtained by trade and exploitation;
  • a modified mind of the warrior focused on steward of God, and on efficiency and profit as outlook on the hereafter.

A first glimpse of this imagination of the rebellious, we have seen in the blue halls of the Uffizi Gallery with paintings by Dutch masters of the Golden Age. This is our last supper in our contemplation of the renaissance in Florence during our Odyssey to “Who are you”. Let us now enjoy our main course”, says Man.

Feiten en logica 17d[8]

“In overseeing the history of mankind within the appalling wealth of imagination of Indra’s net, and within the scope of our quest, we have – in my opinion – succeeded to keep “Maat” or measure at the weighing of the Soul during “Facts and logic”. We might have endless erred in the depths of hell,  wandered on the flanks of the purgatory, gone up in heaven – as tonight at this dinner. But we have completed this part of the Odyssey with hope and consolation. Let us continue the second part of “Visibility”–” The rain of imagination of rising people “– in Amsterdam during “Intensities and associations”, says Narrator.

feiten en logica 17e.[9]

“At “Oneness and diversity” in the letter of Paul to the Ephesians and at “Imagination that prevented us many times to perceive the world“, I think at the same time that all of us in our urge to survive – in one form or another, for example as manifestation of the “All-encompassing One” – are connected to the “mind of the warrior” with its imagination that in a frash of light creates and transforms. We cannot avoid this mindset when we ask the questions how we will continue our life [10]; how we can acquire and maintain a place under the sun, stars and hereafter. We – living humans and Gods (?) – are rebellious when we rise for a new day with its new imaginations. Maybe we can avoid this mindset by directionless merging into the infinite “All-encompassing One”, but this completely surrender – that completely surpasses the conscious action of suicide – is not given to many of us. I think, we as living creatures, cannot escape the mind of the warrior; within this mindset we can only keep “Maat” or measure – with compassion and care – at the weighing of the Soul”, says Carla.

“You are right for this second part of our quest. Maybe “Emptiness” and the third part of our Odyssey will include surprises”, says Man.

“I’m curious. There is our dessert. Tomorrow morning Man and I will leave very early to the airport. How will you travel to Amsterdam?”, says Carla.

“I travel over land and I decide at the last minute which train or bus I will take. Although I had left the mirror world of secret services many years ago, I must keep in mind that these services still have interest in me; I try to avoid as much as possible access to my identity. About a week I expect to be with you in Amsterdam for the continuation of our Odyssey”, says Narrator.


[1] Source image: https://plus.google.com/photos/at/105332456211449523631?hl=nl

[2] Maat – as Goddess in ancient Egypt of the early pharaos – was the personification of truth stability, justice and cosmic order. Later Maat became the “Maatstaff” (or measure staff) for the mean role of the pharao. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maat

[3] Source: Calvino, Italo, Six Memos for the next Millennium. New York: Vintage Books, 1993, p. 55

[4] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ma%C3%A4t

[5] Source image: http://obika.com/portal/IT/it/dove-siamo/ristorante-firenze/tornabuoni/

[6] Source first and second line: Dante “Purgatorio” XVII.25. The third line is added by Jan van Origo.

[7] Dante “Purgatorio” XVII.13-18; translation derived from: The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri trans. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a publication of the Pennsylvania State University.

[8] Source image: http://obika.com/portal/IT/it/dove-siamo/ristorante-firenze/tornabuoni/

[9] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maat

[10] See also: Camus, Albert, The Myth of Sisyfus. (Le Mythe de Sisyphe) (1942), first page of Chapter One.

Five common realities – facts and logic 3


“After my afternoon-rest I have enough energy for the evening. The many tropical diseases left their traces in my body; a whole day staying active is often too much for me. What books did you buy?”, says Carla.

“An Italian course for Sanskrit to revive my study and “Six memos for the next Millennium” by Italo Calvino. The titles of these memos are intriguing:

  • 1 – Lightness,
  • 2 – Quickness,
  • 3 – Exactitude,
  • 4 – Visibility,
  • 5 – Multiplicity

and the never written memo “6 – Consistency”. The titles for these memos may also be guidelines for our Odyssey, in which we – just like Italo Calvino –can never put the sixth memo on paper, because then we should describe the entire universe in its complete infinity”, says Man.

feiten en logica 31[1]

“There I see Narrator approaching. Good to sit here in the evening sun overlooking the “Basilica di Santa Maria Novella”. Does the façade of the Basilica also meet the titles of the memos?”, says Carla.

feiten en logica 32[2]

“Good question with many answers. Did you have a good meeting with your friend?”, says Man.

“Nice to see each other again after so many years. We have change a lot and also remained the same; familiar and different. Over the years, the physical attraction had disappeared but the pleasantness of being together has stayed. Let’s first order drinks and ask for the menu”, says Narrator.

“That is good. After we ordered our meals, I will share with you – as promised this afternoon – my view on “facts and logic” of “Who are you”?”

Carla, Man and Narrator order their drinks, make their choice from the menu and order their meals.

“Yesterday I started in “Man is not only – A philosophy of Religion” by Abraham Heschel [3]. The title of this book appeals to me, because my first name is mentioned in it and because I wish to know more about the faith in God that has remained strange to me in my adult life. I have lived in monasteries and I have guided groups on Oriental wisdom, but I’ve never had an experience of God’s presence. The first eight chapters of the book on “the Unspeakable”, “the Supreme Astonishment”, “the ultimate question that exceeds words” come directly from my heart and exceed it, like blossom on a tree – included in the universe – arose from the earth, is fed by it and will return in it [4]. In Chapter 9 of the book is a passage – I quote – “We praise together with the pebbles on the road surface that appear petrified marvels, together with all flowers and trees that look like they are hypnotized in silence. When mind and spirit correspond, faith born” [5]. Until here the book makes perfect sense to me, as also the fact that the “One” – that is omnipresent – exists, wherein we are completely included and from which we, each and everything around us are temporary manifestations. But God – as the Other – remains a stranger to me. Who is he? Whereby is God separated from “the Unspeakable”, “the Supreme Astonishment”, “the ultimate question that goes beyond words”? This separation is unreal for me; I cannot understand it: it is not logical”, says Man. feiten en logica 331[6]

“In the land of my ancestors, the “Individual One” or Ātman [7] and the “One all-encompassing” or Brahman [8] are expressed and taught by the Upanishads [9]. Through a full consciousness that Ātman and Brahman are two manifestations of the “One” and thereby fall together like a drop in the ocean, we transcend humanity on Earth.

feiten en logica 34[10]

Whether one believes – or one does not – in an “All-encompassing Self” as permanent entity, is hardly of any importance in our daily life with common happiness, suffering and madness. Buddhism follows a strict Middle Way between “One All-encompassing Self” and “human daily life” in order to avoid the bottomless pit of metaphysical questions and the discussions over them [11]. A branche of the Middle Way is the metaphor of Indra’s Net [12] that gives a limited rendering of the interconnectedness between all the separate manifestations en the “All-encompassing Self”. The Mahābhārata had marked a radical shift by moving the mind in daily life from Ātman to “Dharma” – or world order and duty [13]; Dharma means literally “placing the continuous self/Self”. In the Bhagavad Gita – a small and old part of the Mahābhārata – the “attention to daily life” accumulates when Arjuna enters the arena in which families, teachers and students face each other in the field of tension between – on the one hand – the world order and duty (Dharmakshetra [14]) and – on the other hand – human actions (Kurukshetra [15]). When Arjuna faces his family, teachers and loved ones among the opponents, he refuses to give the go-ahead in the battle between the two parties. Kṛṣṇa – his spiritual leader and charioteer during this battle – encourages Arjuna to fulfil his duty within the world order and Kṛṣṇa only succeeds herein when he takes his Godlike form during this dialogue; hereupon Arjuna gives the starting signal for the battle with disastrous consequences to all main actors, but in which they fulfil their duty and task within the resulting world order. Within and coinciding with the “All-encompassing Self”, the Godlike form of Kṛṣṇa is the guardian and spiritual leader in this part of the Mahābhārata”, says Narrator.

“Within the mind-set of your ancestors with their view on “facts and logic”, humans and Gods fulfil their role in the world order. Within my conceptual framework, a Godlike role separated from “the All-encompassing One” does not fit: I feel myself at home within the mind-set of the Upanishads and within the Middle Way of Buddhism, but I like to study views with which I disagree in order to figure out what others have seen and I didn’t see until now”, says Man.

“In the last sentence I notice a statement by Professor Dr. W. Luijpen during his lectures series in philosophy at the Delft University of Technology. I too have studied a lot in my life with which I fully disagree. In my studies of crimes against humanity, I came across many sound, incorrect and false mind-sets with which I totally disagree. After studying the Old Testament and the Mahābhārata – with emphasis on ahiṃsā or non-violence as foundation of life [16] – I came to the conclusion that these books aim at peace, although both books are full of cheating, violence and atrocities. I see that our meal is arriving. Later, I hope to tell a little about the warrior mind-set”, says Carla.feiten en logica 35 [17]

“Enjoy your meal; later we will continue with our quest”, says Man.

“Did our discussion meet the titles of the six memos from Italo Calvino?”, asks Narrator.

“I think so”, says Carla.

“Fully”, says Man.


[1] See also: Calvino, Italo, Six Memos for the next Millennium. New York: Vintage Books, 1993

[2] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria_Novella

[3] See: Heschel, Abraham Joshua, De mens is niet alleen – De ervaring van Gods aanwezigheid. Utrecht: Kok, 2011. The original edition is: Heschel, Abraham Joshua, Man is not alone – A Philosophy of Religion. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951. See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Joshua_Heschel

[4] See also: Origo, Jan van, Who are you – A survey into our existence – 1. Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2012, p. 50 – 51

[5] See: Heschel, Abraham Joshua, De mens is niet alleen – De ervaring van Gods aanwezigheid. Utrecht: Kok, 2011, p. 85.

[6] Source image: http://www.amazon.com/Man-Is-Not-Alone-Philosophy/dp/B0015KDICQ

[7] See amongst others: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%80tman_(Hinduism)

[8] The word Brahman is probably derived from the verbroot √bhṝ meaning “enhance or enlarge”. See for a further introduction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahman

[9] Upanishad literally means in Sanskrit: “sitting down to”. This sitting takes place near a teacher for teaching in the perpetual all-encompassing mystery that is our life is. Source: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta.  Zie ook: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upanishads

[10] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahman

[11] See also: Badrinath, Chaturvedi, The Mahābhārata – An Inquiry in the human Condition. New Delhi: Orient Longman Private Limited, 2006, p. 67 – 68

[12] See also: Origo, Jan van, Who are you – A survey into our existence – 1. Omnia – Amsterdam publisher, 2012, p. 65 – 67;  Cook, Francis, Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra. University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977; Cleary, Thomas, Entry Into the Inconceivable: An Introduction to Hua-yen Buddhism. Boston:  Shambhala, 2002; en Cleary, Thomas, The Flower Ornament Scripture, a Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Boston: Shambhala, 1993

[13] Source: Badrinath, Chaturvedi, The Mahābhārata – An Inquiry in the human Condition. New Delhi: Orient Longman Private Limited, 2006, p. 68. See also chapter 4 for an introduction to Dharma.

[14] Dharmakshetra consists of Dharma “placing of the continuous self/Self”, and “kshetra” – litterally: field (to be ploughed).

[15] Kurukshetra consists of Kuru – a conjugation of “kr” meaning “to make, do or act” and “kshetra” – litterally: veld (to be ploughed).

[16] See also: chapter 5 of Badrinath, Chaturvedi, The Mahābhārata – An Inquiry in the human Condition. New Delhi: Orient Longman Private Limited, 2006

[17] Source image: http://www.exoticindiaart.com/book/details/mahabharata-inquiry-in-human-condition-idh471/