Italo Calvino Excerpt

From "If on a winter's night a traveller"

(one of Haig's favourites)

... I'm speaking to you two, a fairly unrecognisable tangle under the rumpled sheet. Maybe afterward you will go your separate ways and the story will again have to shift gears painfully, to alternate between the feminine tu and the masculine; but now, since your bodies are trying to find, skin to skin, the adhesion most generous in sensations, to transmit and receive vibrations and waves, to compenetrate the fullnesses and the voids, since in mental activity you have also agreed on teh maximum agreement, you can be addressed with an articulated speech that includes you both in a sole, two-headed person. First of all the field of action, or of existence, must be established for this double entity you form. Where is the reciprocal indentification leading? What is the central theme that recurs in your variations and modulations? A tension concentrated on not losing anything of its own potential, on prolonging a state of reactivity, on exploiting the accumullation of the other's desire in order to multiply one's own charge? Or is it the most submissive abandonment, the exploration of the immensity of strokable and reciprocally stroking spaces, the dissolving of one's being in a lake whose surface is infinitely tactile? In both situations you certainly do not exist except in relation to each other, but, to make those situations possible, your respective egos have not so much to erase themselves as to occupy, without reserve, all the void of the mental space, invest in itself at the maximum interest or spend itself to the last penny. In short, what you are doing is very beautiful but grammatically it doesn't change a thing. At the moment when you most appear to be a united voi, a second person plural, you are two tus, more separate and circumscribed than before.

(This is already true now, when you are still occupied, each with the other's presence, in an exclusive fashion. Imagine how it will be in a little while, when ghosts that do not meet will frequent your minds, accompanying the encounters of your bodies tested by habit.)

Ludmilla, now you are being read. Your body is being subjected to a systematic reading, through channels of tactile information, visual, olfactory, and not without some intervention of the taste buds. Hearing also has its role, alert to your gasps and your trills. It is not only the body that is, in you, the object of raeding: the body matters insofar as it is part of a complex of elaborate elements, not all visible and not all present, but manifested in visible and present events: the clouding of your eyes, your laughing, the words you speak, your way of gathering and spreading your hair, your initiatives and your reticences, and all the signs that are on the frontier between you and usage and habits and memory and prehistory and fashion, all codes, all the poor alphabets by which one human being believes at certain moments that he is reading another human being.

And you too, O Reader, are meanwhile an object of reading: the Other Reader now is reviewing your body as if skimming the index, and at some moments she consults it as if gripped by sudden and specific curiosities, then she lingers, questioning it and waiting till a silent asnwer reaches ehr, as if every partial inspection interested her only in the light of a wider spatial reconnaissance. Now she dwells on negligible details, perhaps tiny stylistic faults, for example the prominent Adam's apple or your way of burying your head in the hollow of her shoulder, and she exploits them to establish a margin of detachment, critical reserve, or joking intimacy; now instead the accidentally discovered detail is excessively cherished - for example, the shape of your chin or a special nip you take at her shoulder - and from this start she gains impetus, covers (you cover together) pages and pages from top to bottom without skipping a comma. Meanwhile, in the satisfaction you receive from her way of reading you, from the textual quotations of your physical objectivity, you begin to harbor a doubt: that she is not reading you, single and whole as you are, but using you, using fragments of you detached from the context to construct for herself a ghostly partner, known to her alone, in the penumbra of her semiconsciousness, and what she is deciphering is this apocryphal visitor, not you.

Lovers' reading of each other's bodies (of that concentrate of mind and body which lovers use to go to bed together) differs from the reading of written pages in that it is not linear. It starts at any point, skips, repeats itself, goes backward, insists, ramifies in simultaneous and divergent messages, converges again, has moments of irritation, turns the page, finds its place, gets lost. A direction can be recognized in it, a route to an end, since it tends toward a climax, and with this end in view it arranges rhythmic phases, metrical scansions, recurrence of motives. But is the climax really the end? Or is the race toward that end opposed by another drive which works in the opposite direction, swimming against the moments, recovering time?

If one wanted to depict the whole thing graphically, every episode, with its climax, would require a three-dimensional, or, rather, no model: every experience is unrepeatable. What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space.

Already, in the confused improvisation of the first encounter, the possible future of a cohabitation is read. Today each of you is the object of the other's reading, each reads in the other the unwritten story. Tomorrow, Reader and Other Reader, if you are together, if you lie down in the same bed like a settled couple, each will turn on the lamp at the side of the bed and sink into his or her book; two parallel readings will accompany the approach of sleep; first you, then you will turn out the light; returning from separate universes, you will find each other fleetingly in the darkness, where all separations are erased, before divergent dreams draw you again, one to one side, and one to the other. But do not wax ironic on this prospect of conjugal harmony: what happier image of a couple could you set against it?

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