Six Memos for the next Millennium
Vintage International, 1993
In 1985, Italo Calvino was about to deliver a series of lectures - the famed Six Memos for the Next Millennium - at Harvard University on the literary qualities needed in the 21st century, but he passed away first and they had to be published posthumously.
Today, in 2012, Matteo Thun has revisited that text, transferring some of this insightful reflections to the world of architecture.
May I ask you about Architecture? May I borrow your thoughts about literature for architecture?
Ars Major - Ars Minor - Free Art - Applied Art?
I would like to timidly offer some similitudes, combining your chapters with images.
I know this runs the risk of simplification and might open the way for misunderstandings.
1 - Lightness
“I will devote my first lecture to the opposition between lightness and weight, and will uphold the values of lightness. This does not mean that I consider the virtues of weight any less compelling, but simply that I have more to say about lightness”.
“My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes, from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language”.
“At certain moments I felt that the entire world was turning into stone.”
Milan Kundera. “His novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being is in reality a bitter confirmation of the Ineluctable Weight of Living”.
“Lightness for me goes with precision and determination, not with vagueness and the haphazard.”
Leopardi. “In his ceaseless discourses on the unbearable weight of living...bestows many images of lightness on the happiness he thinks we can never attain: birds, the voice of a girl singing at a window, the clarity of air - and, above all, the moon.
What do you do there, moon, in the sky?
Tell me what you do silent moon.
When evening comes you rise and go
contemplating wastelands; then you set”
“The search for lightness as a reaction to the weight of living”.
2 - Quickness
“There is always a battle against time, against the obstacles that prevent or delay the fulfilment of a desire”.
“The theme that interests us here is not physical speed, but the relationship between physical speed and speed of mind”.
For Leopardi “Speed and conciseness of style please us because they present the mind with a rush of ideas that are simultaneous.... The power of poetic style, which is largely the same thing as rapidity”.
“The motor age has forced speed on us as a measurable quantity... But mental speed cannot be measured and does not allow comparisons... Mental speed is valuable for its own sake...and not for the practical use that can be made of it”.
3 - Exactitude
“To my mind exactitude means three things above all:
1) a well-defined and well-calculated plan for the work in question;
2) an evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual images;
3) a language as precise as possible both in choice of words and in expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination.
It seems to me that language is always used in a random, approximate, careless manner...
We live in an unending rainfall of images. Much of this cloud of visual images fades at once, like the dreams that leave no trace in memory. My discomfort arises from the loss of form that I notice in life, which I try to oppose with the only weapon I can think of - an idea of literature.”
Robert Musil. The Man without Qualities: “exactitude and lack of definition are the poles between which Musil’s endless novel oscillates”.
Dante, Purgatorio: “Then rained down into the high fantasy”.
Calvino’s chapter starts with this assertion:
fantasy is a place where it rains.
4 - Visibility
“What Dante is attempting to define, therefore, is the role of the imagination in the Commedia, in particular the visual part of his fantasy, which precedes or is simultaneous with verbal imagination”.
“In the cinema the image we see on the screen has also passed through the stage of a written text, has then been ‘visualised’ in the mind of the director, then physically reconstructed on the set, and finally fixed in the frames of the film itself. (...)
As soon as the image has become sufficiently clear in my mind, I set about developing it into a story; or better yet, it is the images themselves that develop their own implicit potentialities, the story they carry within them.
If I have included visibility in my list of values to be saved, it is to give warning of the danger we run in losing a basic human faculty: the power of bringing visions into focus with our eyes shut...
of thinking in terms of images”.
5 - Multiplicity
Carlo Emilio Gadda “tried all his life to represent... the simultaneous presence of the most disparate elements that converge to determine every event”.
Jorge Luis Borges contains “the idea of infinity contemporary universes in which all possibilities are realised in all possible combinations”.
“Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopaedia...a series of styles”.
6 - Consistency
ITALO CALVINO: Sixth lecture, never completed.
Transposing the concept of consistency into architecture.
What is a consistent building?
Consistency = durability
Technological consistency = duration over time
Aesthetic consistency = not subject to fads
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