distance, peripheries, and penetration

Saturday, September 25th, 2004

Calvino writes,

from the terrace of the Swiss chalet, Silas Flannery is looking through a spyglass mounted on a tripod at a young woman in a deck chair, intently reading a book on another terrace, two hundred meters below in the valley.

Does this sentence “convey” distance in the writing? A sense of slow, divided descent? How does “in the valley” contribute to the “perspective” telephotoing?

“She’s there every day,” the writer says. “Every time I’m about to sit down at my desk I feel the need to look at her. Who knows what she’s reading? I know it isn’t a book of mine, and instinctively I suffer at the thought, I feel the jealousy of my books, which would like to be read the way she reads. I never tire of watching her: she seems to live in a sphere suspended in another time and another space. I sit down at the desk, but no story I write corresponds to what I would like to convey.” Marana asks him if this is why he is no longer able to work. Oh, no, I write,” he asnwered; “it’s now, only now that I write, since I have been watching her. I do nothing but follow the reading of that woman, seen from here, day by day, hour by hour. I read in her face what she desires to read, and I write it faithfully.” (italics mine)

Is this a transition of a sorts, from one spatial perspective to another? External to internal. Raymond Queneau could write this 99 different ways, but in Calvino this is the way it lays on the page. Flannery is evoking a fantasy, a dream of audience/muse by the writer, yet also imagining “obsession,” the “embedded” Flannery himself character-bound, perhaps real , perhaps not, while the observer, “The reader-protagonist.” the “you” of Calvino’s novel is gleening the story from letters, trying to uncover answers, yet finding only deeper mysteries.


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