Calvino is considered of the most relevant writers and journalists of the XX century. He addressed neorealism and post-modern literary movements still developing his particular style. One might recognize his crystal writing style and attention to the choice of words. Also, reflections on history and contemporary society can be found throughout his work.
Calvino sets as the theme of his lectures "some literary values for the next millennium". He wants to talk to us about literature because he's sure that certain things only literature can provide. He worked on the preparation of these lectures, which he was unable to complete due to his premature death in September 1985. Of the six required lessons, he manages to complete five. The sixth is a preparatory text later published as an appendix.
The values to apply to literature (but not only) are:
Calvino opens his first lecture by defining his work as a writer. He aimed to remove weight, from his characters, from cities, from the story's structure and the language. Lightness is the subtraction of weight. He identifies a feeling of heaviness that stems from daily life, from the constraints we impose ourselves. Heaviness attaches to our way of seeing the world, affecting art forms, and to life itself. Everyday life, once inspiration for literature, generates now discomfort, confusion, and incomprehension.
Rejecting reality or seeking refuge in the irrational will not let you escape heaviness, but adopting a different approach, perspective, logic in the way you look at the world.
In his second lecture, quickness, he argues that speech and language must move swiftly through the complexity of existence in the attempt to give meaning to it, and avoid heaviness.
In the age of fast long-range media, there is the risk to devaluate language, while it should be the mean through which we establish communication with all different things.
Agility in reasoning, bright arguments, imaginative examples until having a sentence in which every word is irreplaceable. A meaningful combination of sounds and concepts to orient yourself among complexity and the attempt to understand it through words.
Exactitude is for Calvino a language as precise as possible, to represent the nuances of thought and imagination most effectively.
The use of language has changed. We speak more roughly, casually, and carelessly. Language has lost its cognitive power, we use an increasingly generic and abstract language, in which the meanings of words are diluted and blunted. He calls it a plague of language and identifies literature as the cure to this disease. With words we name things, we express our feelings, ideas, and dreams, we identify them, we give them a form, and in a certain sense, we make them real. What understanding of the world can we have when the language we use lost its function? What kind of relationship can we have with the world?
In this lecture, Calvino addresses the issue of imagination. For the author, it's a way to unify spontaneity and rational logic, a means to access the potential, the hypothetical, a way to consider all possible alternatives.
Several elements shape the visual part of the imagination. In the past, inspiration was attributed to the muses or gods. In concrete terms, it comes from direct observation of the real world, from the myriad of concepts transmitted by culture, and the ability to internalize and translate all those sensations and experiences.
He wonders what the role of imagination and fantasy will be in the new millennium, which has seen the rise of the civilization of the image.
Will we still be used to creating images from nothing, to recognizing multiplicity and breaking it down to create something new? With the inflation of images, we are subjected to, we run the risk of no longer distinguishing what we have seen on a screen from the real experience.
He asks himself; how much of what we see teaches us something and does not just leave us with a feeling of unease, how much of what we create is the result of something personal and authentic, and not just a simple recall of information we have seen for a moment, will we still be able to imagine and translate these images in words.
In the fifth lesson entitled multiplicity, he proposes the book, the novel, as an encyclopedia, as a method of knowledge, as a network connecting facts, people, and things of the world, a way to orient yourself through existence.
The great challenge of literature is to represent different understandings of the world, to contain infinite imaginable universes.
And to those who believe that literature cannot achieve this goal, Calvino replies, that each of us is like a book. A great combination of experiences, readings, and imaginations? Every life is like an encyclopedia in which everything can be rearranged in all possible ways.
Lightness as a different approach and point of view to escape the heaviness that comes with everyday life.
Quickness as smart reasoning and thinking to move swiftly through the complexity of existence.
Exactitude in our use of language so as not to lose our unique relationship with it.
Visibility to not stop imagining, to dream something new and better.
In multiplicity suggests the book/novel as a network and container of all imaginable possibilities.
Italo Calvino. Lezioni Americane.
Federico Pontarollo. Sei proposte per non perdersi di vista.