Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Inferno

There is a section of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities that has haunted and inspired me since I first read it fifteen years ago. We should seek out that which survives in the midst of chaos and nurture it, and make it strong. Or something like that ... I could never find the quote again after reading it that first time, and was sure that the words if not the intent had shifted in my mind over time. Every once in awhile I'd try a search online, or breeze through the introductions of his books at the library or the bookstore. I never had any luck, and even started to wonder if it was even Calvino I was thinking of.

I was looking in the wrong place - I was sure it was in the first chapter, if not the first line or a dedication. It was, in fact, in the conclusion. I was looking for a poem by Pablo Neruda, and there, tucked in between Neruda & a graphic novel, was my book, right on the front shelf. I pulled it out, started reading randomly, and there was my line, the last paragraph of the book.

(Kublai Khan) said: It is all useless, if the last landing place can only be the infernal city, and it is there that, in ever-narrowing circles, the current is drawing us.

And Polo said: The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.

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