Calvino’s 5th Memo: Multiplicity – The finite in the infinite and the infinite in the finite

Knitting Light by Maria L. Berg 2022

“Literature remains alive only if we set ourselves immeasurable goals, far beyond all hope of achievement. Only if poets and writers set themselves tasks that no one else dares imagine will literature continue to have a function. . . . the grand challenge for literature is to be capable of weaving together the various branches of knowledge, the various ‘codes,’ into a manifold and multifaceted vision of the world.” ~Italo Calvino

So here we are in the final days of August and the last completed memo (lecture) from Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium. Though the contradictory abstractions aren’t as clearly stated in this lecture as in the first three, I found four to examine this week:

  • The singular in the universal and universal in the singular
  • Connection in isolation and isolation in connection
  • The infinite in the finite and the finite in the infinite
  • freedom in constraint and constraint in freedom (which I looked at before I read Six Memos)

August has been a month of synthesis for me. Everything I’m studying in art and poetry and literature are all working together to inform and inspire. Calvino’s ideas about the least thing being seen as the center of a network of relationships, “multiplying the details so descriptions and digressions become infinite” reminded me of an interview with abstract film maker, John Whitney, whose work I discovered in the fabulous book World Receivers which I highly recommend.

The idea of the dot or pixel as the smallest denominator to line, then shape, then form is not new, but expanding the ideas through all the connections to everything in the universe through eternity is a fascinating thought experiment.

Calvino begins his memo on Multiplicity with a section of writing by Gadda. He says that Gadda represents the world as a knot, a tangled skein of yarn. This got me thinking about the final segment in Whitney’s film “Catalog” that looks like moving elongated loops to me, which makes me think of yarn or thread. So for this week’s images I started by cutting paper “loops” and taping them around a square. The result was really fun. It was like knitting with light.

Light Knots by Maria L. Berg 2022

Fractal Verse

I am reading Feeling as a foreign language: the good strangeness of poetry by Alice Fulton. Her ideas for a form of free verse called “fractal verse” appears to fit Calvino’s definition of the value of multiplicity:

“a literature that has absorbed the taste for mental orderliness and exactitude, the intelligence of poetry but at the same time that of science and of philosophy . . .”

I’ve been interested in fractals for a long time. I even designed a puzzle with pieces that made fractals. So I’m enjoying the idea of searching for fractals in free verse and creating fractal verse. This morning I found a couple more resources to explore fractal verse:

Fractals in Poetry Activity
Fractal Poetry examples

New Poem

Today’s Poetics prompt at dVerse Poets Pub fit perfectly (as often is the case) with this week’s study. Christopher Reilley offered a great post about choice, and challenged us to write a poem about choice. Choice is such a great topic for fractal verse. I couldn’t help but give it a try.

The Multiplicity of Choice

A simple choice        to put pen to paper
to pen a poem        about choice is choice
but a poem is        a multitude        of possibilities
a network of eternal connection
each a choice        each choice made
opens a new dimension of new
possibilities and new choices ahead
each person creating choice-dimensions
every moment        every day
and one choice contingent on another's
creating dimensional portals 
to pet Schrödinger's poor cat
before it chooses to hiss or purr,
lick or scratch        if one arrives
in the box where it's alive
but all of that implies
there is choice        which negates fate
and steals the threads from the Destinies,
runs with their scissors toward
bad cuts and bruises
mistakes and bad choices
How many dimensions have blipped into existence
or popped out of possibility because of this poem?
How many unseen cats clawed out of their boxes
or met their doom        due to word-choice
and white space?
Within the knot of creation, the network of connection,
the web of words that make a poem
there is no easy choice.






			

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