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“this is not a detached dissertation but an exploration of my origins, an indirect attempt at self-definition” —Octavio Paz

The Particular Burden of Reality

To cut off Medusa’s head without being turned to stone, Perseus supports himself on the very lightest of things, the winds and the clouds, and fixes his gaze upon what can be revealed only by indirect vision, an image caught in a mirror.  I am immediately tempted to see this myth as an allegory on the poet’s relationship to the world, a lesson in the method to follow when writing.  But I know that any interpretation impoverishes the myth and suffocates it.  With myths, one should not be in a hurry.  It is better to let them settle into the memory, to stop and dwell on every detail, to reflect on them without losing touch with their language of images.  The lesson we can learn from a myth lies in the literal narrative, not in what we add to it from the outside.

The relationship between Perseus and the Gorgon is a complex one and does not end with the beheading of the monster.  …  Perseus does not abandom [the severed head] but carries it concealed in a bag.  When his enemies are about to overcome him, he has only to display it, holding it by its snaky locks, and this bloodstained booty becomes an invincible weapon in the hero’s hand.  It is a weapon he uses only in cases of dire necessity, and only against those who deserve the punishment of being turned into statues.  Here, certainly, the myth is telling us something, something implicit in the images that can’t be explained in any other way.  Perseus succeeds in mastering that horrendous face by keeping it hidden, just as in the first place he vanquished it by viewing it in a mirror.  Perseus’s strength always lies in a refusal to look directly, but not in a refusal of the reality in which he is fated to live; he carries the reality with him and accepts it as his particular burden.

— Italo Calvino, ‘Lightness,’ Six Memos for the Next Millennium

Filed under: Calvino, Quotes

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