I'm reading the paper "Erasing the Invisible Cities: Italo Calvino and the Violence of Representation" by John Welsh (which you can read for free online). I've read and enjoyed Calvino's Invisible Cities, but I wouldn't consider myself an expert by any means.

The paper is about the "violence of representation" and how this concept relates to Calvino's writing. As I understood it, "violence of representation" refers to the idea that words are incapable of describing the "totality of experience" (Welsh). The mere act of writing is violent in that it robs experience of its true meaning. Note that this is a topic I know little to nothing about, so its very possible that I'm misunderstanding important detail(s). It's also confusing because Welsh uses the phrases "violence of representation" and "crisis of representation", and I'm not entirely sure what the difference is.

Welsh argues that Calvino overcomes this using a strategy Welsh refers to as "lightening". As I understood it, "lightening" is about exactness, and describing things with as little language as possible. But this is something I have no familiarity with, so I could very easily be missing the point.

Up to this point, if there have been any misunderstandings of Welsh's points, the blame lies with me. I'm now going to do something I prefer to avoid; I'm going to criticize Welsh's argument despite not fully understanding it.

Welsh analyzes several passages written by Calvino to look for evidence of lightness. But the analysis was in very broad strokes. Welsh argued that lightening was a goal of Calvino, and to the extent that I understand Welsh's arguments, it seems like Welsh was successful. But given that Welsh started out with a philosophical critique of the idea of language, it seemed to me that there was very little analysis of the specific language, the words, the order of the words, the punctuation, the rythm, etc. of Calvino's writing. So while Welsh perhaps showed that lightening was a goal of Calvino's, Welsh, in my mind, didn't show that it was something Calvino actually achieved.

This question is a two part question. First, I would appreciate an explanation of the many concepts Welsh used in his paper. But second, I would appreciate if someone could show, rather than tell, what the concept of "lightening" really is. I think the best way to do that would be through a close reading of either a passage by Calvino or a passage by a different author that uses similar ideas. Since "lightening" is presumably about language, I think that a close reading of Calvino's language is the best way to understand what Calvino is doing.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.