Levels of Reality

…literature does not recognise Reality as such, but only levels.

I’ve also enjoyed Italo Calvino’s ‘The Uses of Literature’, in particular his essay ‘Levels of Reality in Literature’. It’s fools errand to try distill Calvino’s lucid argument into a blog post, but this is a scrapbook after all – so here is the vibe of it;

Different levels of reality also exist in literature; in fact literature rests precisely on the distinction among various levels, and would be unthinkable without an awareness of this distinction. A work of literature might be defined as an operation carried out in the written language and involving several levels of reality at the same time.

He goes on to demonstrate his thesis through analysis of the classics. How, for instance, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream the aristocratic, supernatural and comic characters occur on three different levels of reality that intersect. Think about what it means for suspension of disbelief;

…the credibility of what is written can be understood in very different ways, each one corresponding to more than one level of reality. There is nothing to prevent anyone from believing in the encounter of Ulysses with the Sirens as a historical fact, in the same way as one believes in the landing of Christopher Columbus… Or else we may believe it by feeling ourselves struck by the revelation  of a truth beyond perception that is contained in the myth.

Calvino proposes the following sentence as the most complete and compact model for connecting links between levels of reality in works of literature;

I write that Homer tells that Ulysses says: I have listened to the song of the Sirens.

Now, chew on THAT next time you’re raking your sand garden OR you can read the 20-page essay yourself…

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One Comment

  1. geehkasauraus
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 2:49 am | Permalink


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