Reading Update: Calvino, Raattamaa, Borges, Calvino again, and Wallenstein

A quick update on what I’m reading. After Italo Calvino’s Time and the Hunter, I read a Swedish book by Lars Mikael Raattamaa, titled Politiskt våld (“Political Violence”), containing poetry and essays; most of the essays were about urban planning, sprawl, New Urbanism, space syntax, etc., and he mentions people like Saskia Sassen (The Global City – I’ve been meaning to read Phil Gyford’s summary/review), Edward Soja (Thirdspace, Postmetropolis), Richard Florida, etc. (See my previous post in Swedish.)

Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions After Raattamaa’s book, I decided to read some Borges. Håkan suggested that I read it chronologically, but the first novel (“The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell”) made me realize that what I wanted was essentially Calvino, or at least “speculative fiction,” so I skipped ahead to the first novel of part two, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” which was more what I wanted. As with Calvino, I’m reminded of Taoism, Buddhism, Zen, and Alan Watts’s writing about them:

There are no nouns in the conjectural Ursprache of Tlön, from which its “present-day” languages and dialects derive: there are impersonal verbs, modified by monosyllabic suffixes (or prefixes) functioning as adverbs. For example, there is no nouns that corresponds to our word “moon,” but there is a verb which in English would be “to moonate” or “to enmoon.” “The moon rose above the river” is ”hlör u fang axaxas mlö,” or, as Xul Solar succinctly translates: Upward, behind the onstreaming it mooned.


[The] thoroughgoing monism, or idealism [of the culture of Tlön], renders science null. To explain (or pass judgment on) an event is to link it to another; on Tlön, that joining-together is a posterior state of the subject, and can neither affect nor illuminate the prior state. Every mental state is irreducible: the simple act of giving it a name—i.e., of classifying it—introduces a distortion, a “slant” or “bias.” One might well deduce, therefore, that on Tlön there are no sciences—or even any “systems of thought.” The paradoxical truth is that systems of thought do exist, almost countless numbers of them. Philosophies are much like the nouns [...]; the fact that every philosophy is by definition a dialectical game, a Philosophie des Als Ob, has allowed them to proliferate.

This novel was good, but I couldn’t quite enjoy it because I felt like I hadn’t gotten into the “Borges groove” – I still expected Calvino. So I skipped ahead again, reading “The Garden of Forking Paths,” and “Funes, His Memory,” which both are great, and very Calvino (or, rather, they seem to be the ones which my favorites by Calvino are inspired by).

Here’s a quote from “The Garden of Forking Paths.” I hope that this doesn’t spoil the experience of reading it; if you’re unsure and intend to read the novel, don’t read the following quote. This is Dr. Stephen Albert describing to the protagonist, Dr. Yu Tsun, how he came to realize how the book left by Ts’ui Pen should be read. Ts’ui Pen had devoted his last years to writing “a novel containing more characters than the Hung Lu Meng” and creating “a labyrinth in which all men would lose their way.

[...] I was sent from Oxford the document you have just examined. I paused, as you may well imagine, at the sentence “I leave to several futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths.” Almost instantly, I saw it—the garden of forking paths was the chaotic novel; the phrase “several futures (not to all)” suggested to me the image of a forking in time, rather than in space. A full rereading of the book confirmed my theory. In all fictions, each time a man meets diverse alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the work of the virtually impossible-to-disentangle Ts’ui Pen, the character chooses—simultaneously—all of them.

The novel “Funes, His Memory” is about Ireneo Funes, a man with absolute memory. The above disclaimer applies to this quote as well.

Not only was it difficult for him to see that the generic symbol “dog” took in all the dissimilar individuals of all shapes and sizes, it irritated him that the “dog” of three-fourteen in the afternoon, seen in profile, should be indicated by the same noun as the dog of three-fifteen, seen frontally. His own face in the mirror, his own hands, surprised him every time he saw them. [...] Funes could continually perceive the quiet advances of corruption, of tooth decay, of weariness. He saw—he noticed—the progress of death, of humidity. He was the solitary, lucid spectator of a multiform, momentaneous, and almost unbearably precise world.

Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium A couple of days ago, I received (the Swedish translation of) Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium, of which I’ve read the first chapter, titled “Lightness.” I have no comments on it or quotes from it yet, but it is very stimulating.

And last weekend, I bought a book I’ve been curious about for a while, a book by Sven-Olof Wallenstein titled Den moderna arkitekturens filosofier (I would translate it as “Modern Architecture and its Philosophies”). It’s about the influence of philosophy on architecture, and also about philosophy’s relationship with architecture. The few pages I read of the introduction today were very interesting, and this book seems to be exactly what I’ve been looking for.

I intend to alternate between Borges, Calvino, and Wallenstein in the next few weeks.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on August 10, 2004. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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