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Cosmicomics
by Italo Calvino
Synopsis by Kelly Evans


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Each chapter of Cosmicomics begins with a blurb which sounds like the dry, tasteless extract of a physics, astronomy or geology textbook, describing how solar systems formed from nebula, the universe started from a point smaller than an atom, the orbit of the moon changed long ago, dinosaurs became extinct, space is curved, expands, etc. On each of these topics, our narrator, Qfyfq, immediately launches. His idiosyncratic voice, omniscient, blithering, self-centered, unerring, ridiculous, is recognizable, exactly consistent, no matter if he is talking about his life as a mollusk, a dinosaur, a moon-being before color, or life before there was form, when the whole family lived on a nebula, or in the point before space.

Most of Qfyfq's friends and relatives have unpronounceable names. Xlthlx, Rwzfs, Mrs. Vhd Vhd, the beloved Mrs. Ph (i) Nk0 (actually a special typeset must have been developed, now that I think about it, since my keyboard doesn't have all the options necessary to even write these names), Z'zu, De XuaeauX, etc. However, they, and he, have distinctly human foibles (neuroses, competitiveness, love triangles, gambling, boredom, incomprehension of their bodies and environment), although in most cases they are not human. And while Qfyfq tells tales of many different lives, seemingly beginningless, which seem to imply transmigration and transformation, all mention of death and birth is conspicuously absent.

Qfyfq seems to have always been, although he doesn't waste time speculating on this fact. It's simply true that whatever is mentioned he remembers, or can look up in his diary. For instance in one case, he's looking through his telescope, as he does nightly, and sees a sign hanging off a galaxy 100,000,000 light years away, "I saw you." He hastens to check his diary and finds out he had been doing something he'd wanted to hide and hoped was forgotten on exactly that day, two hundred million years ago. Throughout the chapter, he worries about what people on galaxies all over the universe think of him, and keeps scanning for signs, and speculating what each sign means about others' judgements of himself, and wondering how to respond. "What of it?" Or, "Did you see it all, or just a little bit?"

Qfyfq is the stripped down being. All ordinary meanings are called into question, into the light, so to speak, examined and dispelled. Finally, Qfyfq does often end up in human form, and we're forced to abandon our anthropocentric habits, but with a chuckles, instead of a gut-wrenching death rattle. Likewise, we can sit back and watch the seemingly indisputable concepts of physics unravel in a satirical solvent, or by choice see the stories parabolically, finding layer after layer of reflection of ourSelf, a much more fundamental self than the one identified with a particular body or otherwise "ephemeral" life. The easy elasticity of the mind is explored by changes of quantity and scale in time and size.  

We see ourselves macro and microscopically, singular and plural. And through it all, we feel basically uncertain, restless, proud, conceited, and most of all, in love! The beloved, of course, usually eludes me. And when she doesn't, I often lose interest. I might desire her more if she lived on the moon (chapter 1), unreachable. But she drives me to build a shell (last chapter), which is really the prototypical architectural, evolutionary and artistic feat. Making a thing to be seen, I instigate the fact of the visual field, and the apparatus of sight, through the creation of something to be seen. Me! It was My doing. (The world, and all it contains, I had foreseen it all!) Elsewhere, I make the primordial sign, which is later copied and distorted ad infinitum, until the original, forgotten, in it's purity, is lost, and space is so full of signs and signs referencing other signs, there is no longer a speck of clear space anywhere.

This is the gist of it. Like a multifaceted reflecting device, the reader is reminded of many other writers. In subject and certain passages, I'm reminded of Witman's Song of Myself. In tone, EJ Gold's Creation Story Verbatim comes to mind. Italio Calvino has been compared to Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges, I guess because of Qfyfq's manner, which beguiles, comforts and seduces the reader, making it impossible not to accept the magical and downright bizarre statements he dishes up as True, ipso facto. But comparisons gall us all. So let's not dredge the coprophagous Cheshire Cat's invisible gut for cross-referenced erudition. We need feed no Ivory Towared, mycelia-minded methodologists. Like any good work of Zen, Cosmicomics is a rational, instant, uncompounded, thing-in-itself.


Copyright 1998 -- Author & Science Fiction Museum All rights reserved
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