Italo Calvino’s 1985 lectures went unfinished (he got 5 out of 6 written) when he died, but cracking this book open decades later, there is plenty of advice for us in those. Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, and Multiplicity were the ones he wrote, meaning to tackle Consistency as well.
In Exactitude, he dives deep on the pestilence of images. “We live in an unending rainfall of images. The most powerful media transform the world into images and multiply it by means of the phantasmagoric play of mirrors… Much of this cloud of visual images fades at once, like the dreams that leave no trace in the memory, but what does not fade is a feeling of alienation and discomfort.”
Writing prose should be the same as poetry; the goal is to look “for the unique expression, one that is concise, concentrated, and memorable.”
Calvino’s motto has been the Latin Festina lente: hurry slowly.
In an age when other fantastically speedy, widespread media are triumphing, and running the risk of flattening all communication onto a single, homogeneous surface, the function of literature is communication between things that are different simply because they are different, not blunting but even sharpening the differences between them.
De Quincey’s “The English Mail Coach” essay bumps into my consciousness again in his lecture on Quickness. A copy of that essay awaits me at the library, having come across it when it was mentioned as Joseph Cornell’s favorite book.
On objects: “the moment an object appears in a narrative, it is charged with a special force and becomes like the pole of a magnetic field, a knot in the network of invisible relationships…. in a narrative any object is always magic.”