Theory As Poetry: Italo Calvino’s “Six Memos for the Next Millennium” (2016)


A meticulous effort
to match the written
to the not-written,
to the sum of the sayable
and the not-sayable.
These are two distinct drives
toward exactitude.

In trying to account
for the density and continuity
of the world around us,
language is exposed as lacunose,
it always says something less
than the sum
of what can be experienced.

Words connect
the visible track
to the invisible thing,
the absent thing,
the thing that is desired
or feared,
like a fragile makeshift bridge
cast across the void.

For this reason
the proper use of language, to me,
is one that helps us approach things
(present or absent)
with discretion,
attention, and caution,
and with respect
for what these things
(present or absent)
can tell us without words.

-Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millenium (2016 [1988]), pp. 91, 94.

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