Il pittore e il pesce. Una poesia di Raymond Carver, un’opera di Carlo Dalcielo

A review
dicembre 8, 2011, 8:59 am
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by Damian Kelleher

Carlo (that’s me) doesn’t know how to read.

How do you read? How do I read?

Carlo reads by creating pictures in his mind which convey the meaning of the work he is reading. For him, at least, what he reads becomes a series of symbols which act as concrete signposts designating the important parts of the work – again, for him. One memorable scene in Giulio Mozzi’s Carlo Doesn’t Know How to Read has Carlo talking at length at a book reading by one of his favourite authors about a scene in which the pocket of a raincoat has its stitching come undone – a scene which is, to the other readers, and to the author, forgettable, indeed unimportant: but for Carlo, who sees the scene so emphatic and clear, it has become paramount.

Carlo doesn’t recognise words because he doesn’t see them. If the page includes the word “door,” Carlo doesn’t the word “door.” He sees a door. If the page includes the word “blue,” Carlo doesn’t see the word “blue”. He sees something blue.

I have friends who read novels as though they are movies transferred to text. They create “moving pictures” in their head, vast, bright, elaborate scenes involving characters, plot and excitement. Perhaps this automatic response of creating a movie in their mind comes from the fact that they have been raised with television and cinema as their primary method of consuming entertainment, or perhaps some novels naturally align themselves with the expositionary and visually kinetic functions of cinema.

I have always found it bewildering when a friend tells me that a book they have enjoyed has played out, for them, like a high-impact, high-budget movie in their heads, with action, drama, sex, twists, and adventure. They have, always and without question, a firm picture in their mind as to how the lead character looks (assisted, no doubt, by the author’s own descriptions), as well as how the story itself unfolds. How, then, do I read? Not like that. I never form an understanding of the character’s appearance – no matter how many times the author might describe their characters, I forget instantaneously. I never picture scenes, nor allow the creation of a space in my mind where the action might unfold. The reading of writing is, for me, an exercise in understanding the structure and make-up of a text, its effects and the subtle selection of words and phrases with which a novel is created. I examine the scaffolding and admire the facade, and always, always, attempt to locate the cracks and joins of the piece, both to admire and to critique. Reading, no matter its pleasures, has become an exercise in professional examination as much as enjoyment.

When he tells his friends about a book…Carlo imagines himself reentering the space where he was the first time he read the book, and from there, withing that space, the action going on around him, Carlo looks all over, looks at things, notes what’s there, what he didn’t notice before when he was reading, and he names these things, comes up with words – apparently, for Carlo, spoken words are completely different from written words – and so as he sees these things, bit by bit, he realises that they’re there.

Which type of reading is better? It’s hard – perhaps impossible – to say. I prefer my own method, but of course that is because it is the method I employ. Creating a movie in my head seems, to me, to be a side-step away from literature, to admit that the written word is in fact subordinate to cinema, that literature’s function is to act now as a more quiet, more personal example of the blockbuster. Virtually every writer I read would be unfilmable if this were the case, and all of the writers I hold dear to my heart are untranslatable to any other medium – they are literature, they are not film, nor music, nor song, nor photography. I could hardly create a film of Sebald’s Vertigo or Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, or Vila-Matas’ Montano’s Malady in my mind – it wouldn’t make sense, the thrust and central conceits of these works wouldn’t transfer, the art of the work would fail.

”When you talk about a book,” one friend told him, “it’s like you’re talking about a dream. And it’s always hard to tell with dreams if you’re describing what you saw or if the act of trying to describe a dream has set your imagination off in a new direction so that now you’re actually adding new things to what you remember…

What, then, is reading? Is it an exercise in understanding the machinations of a master craftsman? To perceive it in that manner may assist in one’s own writing but it makes of literature a kind of examinatory archaeology, as though writers scrounge around in the skeletons of other works in the hopes of learning choice tidbits for their own use while forgoing the beauty of what they have discovered. I am a lesser reader if I read, say, Borges purely for his technique – I must also read him for his art, his feeling, his successes and his failures. Writing cannot stand purely on its technical merit, or its place in literary history. Writing does not stand purely on its technical merit, or its place in literary history. It is, instead, a series of conversations by the worlds most insightful, most empathic, most intellectual men and women discussing the most difficult concepts with one another. I am reminded here of E. M. Forster’s conception of the great writers of the world assembled around a large circular table, writing and discussing in competition with one another – that is, not with their milieu, or their generation, or their style, or their genre, but with one another. But writing is also the examination of beautiful things, of wonderful ideas, of hopeless ambitions and crusades, and of the tiny, the insignificant, the small, The purview of the writer is enormous – it is as much, or as little, as the writer would like. Their mandate is what they decide, no more and no less.

What, then, is reading? It is not a smaller, quieter substitute for cinema, though certain books may function as such. A novel offers the reader a window not only to another time or place or sensation or feeling, but allows a viewpoint into the prejudices, intellect and emotion of another person, another intellect. We are able to come as close to understanding another person when we read the best that they are capable of writing, because a (very) good book should be the purest and clearest expression of the author’s intention – the author’s idealistic self. To read is to experience the aesthetic appreciation of the author’s entire world condensed into a cohesive expression.

…there’s no question that these are always the same things, the things that make up the story, the objects and things that motivate the action going on in the story; and yet they’re never really the exact same things: a door’s a door but never the same door; an evening’s an evening but never the same evening; a kitchen table’s a kitchen table but never the same kitchen table… And even Carlo, his friends realize, when they meet for one of their evenings at the bar by the Poggio Rusco station, even Carlo’s not the same exact Carlo; no, he’s really not the same Carlo; he’s always a Carlo but never the same Carlo..

This review has avoided discussing the construction of Giulio Mozzi’s Carlo Doesn’t Know How to Read to instead examine the questions it raises. The story itself is of little consequence – there is virtually no plot to speak of, and no character, either. “Carlo” is a stand-in for Mozzi (and indeed, this story was originally portrayed as written by “Carlo Dalcielo”, who turned out to be a fictional creation of Mozzi’s), and the story itself is a stand-in for an essay on reading, writing, and the effects of both on the writer and the reader. This is a story which forces one to examine their reasons for reading and how they read, and whether their method of reading is the most appropriate both for themselves and for the piece in question (whatever that piece may be).

Carlo Doesn’t Know How to Read by Giulio Mozzi is a short story from the Dalkey Archive Press’ anthology, Best European Fiction 2010

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