designed space

To me it’s interesting how we control movement and meaning by concocting structures with windows, doors, and other forms of openings and paths. Take a book. In a novel we may “enter into” the story and stay there, following the paths that Aureliano Buendia takes through his life. This is a descriptive issue: we “follow” the story along, we’re “into” the story, we’re immersed in the action.

We “enter” the book store, however, in a different way that we “enter” a novel. Calvino writes, “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade.”

As readers we follow the path that the designer has provided. “Y-o-u-a-r-e-a-b-o-u-t-to- . . .” et cetera.

Page 25 of my copy (no other person has this copy) of Calvino, goes this way:

You have now read about thirty pages and you’re becoming caught up in the story. At a certain point you remark: “This sentence sounds somehow familiar. In fact, this whole passage reads like something I’ve read before.” Of course: there are themes that recur, the text is interwoven with these reprises, which serve to express the fluctuation of time. You are the sort of reader who is sensitive to such refinements; you are quick to catch the author’s intentions and nothing escapes you. But at, at the same time, you also feel a certain dismay; just when you were beginning to grow truely interested . . .

This passage leads to an interesting twist in the novel, but, regardless, the habit of reading, the “novel” itself, authorial process, and the reader (a fiction) are all being called up as “subjects” we should pay attention to “to read” If on a winter’s night a traveler. Even so, the “reader” still becomes engaged (depending on the reader), who may not “like” this kind of a novel. To continue, Calvino writes

You are thunderstruck. Reading Marana’s letters, you felt you were encountering Ludmilla at every turn. . . . Because you can’t stop thinking of her: this is how you explain it, a proof of your being in love . . . And it isn’t only jealousy: it is suspicion, distrust, the feeling that you cannot be sure of anything or anyone. . . . The pursuit of the uninterrupted book, which instilled in you a special excitement since you were conducting it together with the Other Reader, turns out to be the same thing as pusuing her, who eludes you in a proliferation of mysteries, deceits, disguises. . . .


Anyway, design creates a surface of story we expect to move in a we are used to. This surface is populated by characters who do things, sumount challenges, then live happily ever after. It is possible, however, to read a story where the surface of the story merges with another surface, say a substory surface, as in A Continuity of Parks, wherein a novel being read by a protagonists takes the plot over and climaxes in the room where a man is reading a novel about a man who is about to be murdered while reading a novel about a character who is about to kill a man who is reading a novel about a man who is about to kill a man et cetera or supposedly. Or, maybe it’s all some major coincidence. But who believes in those?

5 thoughts on “designed space

  1. gibb

    Your excerpt from Calvino reminds me of Donald Hofstadter’s essay referenced in a post on Narratives Sense and Nonsense dated August 2nd (in case I didn’t do the tag right here) that simply reads as to what the reader is doing as he reads.

  2. gibb

    And, I do believe in coincidence–in the manner of incidents occurring concurrently. Maybe it all ties in with the fact that however many plots there are in life–let’s stick to the high number of 37 (according to Georges Polti. Just as with the lottery, the odds of using these 37 and coming up with a match–or a win–may be against you, but will happen eventually.

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