Italo Calvino’s Six Memos as ethical imperative in J.R. Carpenter’s The Gathering Cloud

Abstract (in English): 

In 1985, Italo Calvino wrote a series of lectures (later published as ‘memos’) in which he proposed six values he deemed crucial to literature as it moved into the next millennium: lightness, quickness, ‘crystal’ exactitude, visibility, multiplicity, and consistency. Though never a writer of electronic literature, Calvino has frequently been associated or referenced in relation to digital works. J.R. Carpenter’s web-based work The Gathering Cloud (2016) (hereafter TGC) exhibits Calvino’s values. TGC is informed by Howard’s 1803 Essay on the Modifications of Clouds. Howard’s ‘frontispiece’ and five ‘plates’ are used in Carpenter’s web-based work. Poetry is then superimposed on these repurposed illustrations. Situated ‘within’ the poetry, animated gif collages play. Where Calvino in his memos writes that he considers the virtues of the binary opposites of his values (i.e., weight, lingering, ‘flame’ exactitude, ambiguity, singularity, and inconsistency) no less compelling, Carpenter’s work suggests that Calvino’s values (or rather the absence or removal of their binary opposites) are not only preferable in terms of contemporary literary challenges, but an ethical imperative in relation to environmental impact as it relates to contemporary media, dissemination, and indeed everyday life. In this analysis of TGC, Calvino’s values will be discussed in relation to each of the work’s six sections (i.e., the ‘frontispiece’ and five ‘plates’).

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David Wright