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Calvino’s Lightness

Italo Calvino explains lightness as the extraction of “weight” from a piece of literature. He believes that there are three senses of lightness and explains them all through Guido Cavalcanti, a character from Boccaccio’s “Decameron”. His first sense is lightness of language, described as ” meaning is conveyed through a verbal texture that seems weightless, until the meaning itself takes on the same rarefied consistency”. The second sense referenced is the narration of a train of thought or psychological process. The last sense that Calvino describes is the sense of “a visual image of lightness that acquires emblematic value…”. He is referencing the lightness of an image; his example here is the emblem he selected to represent lightness, Cavalcanti leaping over a tombstone to avoid his antagonists. This emblem shows that Cavalcanti has embraced lightness by leaping over death.

Cavalcanti is not the only example that Calvino uses. His first example given in the memo is the mythological story of Perseus and Medusa. Perseus was only able to defeat Medusa’s death stare by reflecting her own image back onto herself. Once he was able to behead the beast, he found that the head of Medusa could protect him, using it against other monsters. The head, also, when laid upon sea tress turns them to coral. Perseus was able to step back and see his reality from a higher viewpoint. The story references Perseus’ ability to fly with his winged shoes, a literal translation of him flying to a high point, but the way he was able to accept something that was so evil as good with the right use shows his true lightness in character. Calvino believes that our current world has trouble seeing lightness because our view of the world is too dense. He believes we will only be able to see true lightness if we are able to “fly away” like Perseus and see the world from a different perspective.

When referencing my own knowledge of lightness, I am drawn to the idea of comics. A simple comic strip can bring about a sense of humor with very little meaning or weight. A famous comic that comes to mind that exemplifies lightness is “The Far Side” by Gary Larson. He uses simple images and short captions to appeal to one’s humor about an everyday idea.


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