More If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller quotes

by suu4leaf

“Don’t be amazed if you see my eyes always wandering. In fact, this is my way of reading, and it is only in this way that reading proves fruitful to me. If a book truly interests me, I cannot follow it for more than a few lines before my mind, having seized on a thought that the text suggests to it, or a feeling, or a question, or an image, goes off on a tangent and springs from thought to thought, from image to image, in an itinerary of reasonings and fantasies that I feel the need to pursue to the end, moving away from the book until I have lost sight of it. The stimulus of reading is indispensable to me, and of meaty reading, even if, of every book, I manage to read no more than a few pages. But those few pages already enclose for me whole universes, which I can never exhaust.”

“I understand you perfectly,” another reader interjects, raising his waxen face and reddened eyes from his volume. “Reading is a discontinuous and fragmentary operation. Or, rather, the object of reading is a punctiform and pulviscular material. In the spreading expanse of the writing, the reader’s attention isolates some minimal segments, juxtapositions of words, metaphors, syntactic nexuses, logical passages, lexical peculiarities that prove to possess an extremely concentrated density of meaning. They are like elemental particles making up the work’s nucleus, around which all the rest revolves. Or else like the void at the bottom of a vortex which sucks in and swallows currents. It is through these apertures that, in barely perceptible flashes, the truth the book may bear is revealed, its ultimate substance. Myths and mysteries consist of impalpable little granules, like the pollen that sticks to the butterfly’s legs; only those who have realized this can expect revelations and illuminations. This is why my attention, in contrast to what you, sir, were saying, cannot be detached from the written lines even for an instant. I must not be distracted if I do not wish to miss some valuable clue. Every time I come upon one of these clumps of meaning I must go on digging around to see if the nugget extends into a vein. This is why my reading has no end: I read and reread, each time seeking the confirmation of a new discovery among the folds of the sentences.”

“I, too, feel the need to reread the books I have already read,” a third reader says, “but at every rereading I seem to be reading a new book, for the first time. Is it I who keep changing and seeing new things of which I was not previously aware? Or is reading a construction that assumes form, assembling a great number of variables, and therefore something that cannot be repeated twice according to the same pattern? Every time I seek to relive the emotion of a previous reading, I experience different and unexpected impressions, and do not find again those of before. At certain moments it seems to me that between one reading and the next there is a progression: in the sense, for example, of penetrating further into the spirit of the text, or of increasing my critical detachment. At other moments, on the contrary, I seem to retain the memory of the readings of a single book one next to another, enthusiastic or cold or hostile, scattered in time without a perspective, without a thread that ties them together. The conclusion I have reached is that reading is an operation without object; or that its true object is itself. The book is an accessory aid, or even a pretext.”

A fourth speaks up: “If you mean to insist on the subjectivity of reading, then I agree with you, but not in the centrifugal sense you attribute to it. Every new book I read comes to be a part of that overall and unitary book that is the sum of my readings. This does not come about without some effort: to compose that general book, each individual must be transformed, enter into a relationship with the books I have read previously, become their corollary or development or confutation or gloss or reference text. For years I have been coming to this library, and I explore it volume by volume, shelf by shelf, but I could demonstrate to you that I have done nothing but continue the reading of a single book. ”

“In my case, too, all the books I read are leading to a single book,” a fifth reader says, sticking his face out from behind a pile of bound volumes, “but it is a book remote in time, which barely surfaces from my memories. There is a story that for me comes before all other stories and of which all the stories I read seem to carry an echo, immediately lost. In my readings I do nothing but seek that book read in my childhood, but what I remember of it is too little to enable me to find it again.”

A sixth reader, who was standing, examining the shelves with his nose in the air, approaches the table. “The moment that counts most for me is the one that precedes reading. At times a title is enough to kindle in me the desire for a book that perhaps does not exist. At times it is the incipit of the book, the first sentences…… In other words: if you need little to set the imagination going, I require even less: the promise of reading is enough.”

“For me, on the other hand, it is the end that counts,” a seventh says, “but the true end, final, concealed in the darkness, the goal to which the book wants to carry you. I also seek openings in reading,” he says, nodding toward the man with the bleary eyes, “but my gaze digs between the words to try to discern what is outlined in the distance, in the spaces that extend beyond the words ‘the end.'”

The moment has come for you to speak. “Gentlemen, first I must say the in books I like to read only what is written, and to connect the details with the whole, and to consider certain readings as definitive; and I like to keep one book distinct from the other, each for what it has that is different and new; and I especially like books to be read from beginning to end. For a while now, everything has been going wrong for me: it seems to me that in the world there now exist only stories that remain suspended or get lost along the way.”

The fifth reader answers you: “That story of which I spoke – I, too, remember the beginning well, but I have forgotten all the rest. It must be a story of the Arabian Nights. I am collating the various editions, the translations in all languages. Similar stories are numerous and there are many variants, but none is that story. Can I have dreamed it? And yet I now I will have no peace until I have found it and find out how it ends.”

—- Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

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