Notes on Italo Calvino’s Time and the Hunter 2

Italo Calvino, Time and the Hunter I’m on the last few pages of Time and the Hunter now. When I read Invisible Cities, there were a few passages that reminded me of Kevin Lynch’s concept of imageability1 , as defined in the book The Image of the City. There have been several such passages in this book as well. The first one was in the chapter “t zero,” which is the shortest story I’ve read, in the sense of how much time passes. The scene is perhaps a savannah, and the entire story concerns a single moment of time, with a hunter with a bow, a lion suspended mid-air, and an arrow recently fired.

The hunter reflects on why he recognizes this particular situation. It is not, he thinks, due to a reference to a previous hunting experience. “Every lion we encounter in our brief life is different from every other lion; woe to us if we stop to make comparisons, to deduce our movements from norms and premises.”

Here’s a long quote from pages 97-98:

If I say this moment I am living through is not being lived for the first time by me, it’s because the sensation I have of it is one of a slight doubling of images, as if at the same time I were seeing not one lion or one arrow but two or more lions and two or more arrows superimposed with a barely perceptible overlapping, so the sinuous outlines of the lion’s form and the segment of the arrow seem underlined or rather haloed by finer lines and a more delicate color. The doubling, however, could be only an illusion through which I depict to myself an otherwise indefinable sense of thickness, whereby lion arrow bush are something more than this lion this arrow this bush, namely, the interminable repetition of lion arrow bush arranged in this specific relationship with an interminable repetition of myself in the moment when I have just slackened the string of my bow.

I wouldn’t want this sensation as I have described it, however, to resemble too much the recognition of something already seen, arrow in that position, lion in that other and reciprocal relation between the positions of arrow and of lion and of me rooted here with the bow in my hand; I would prefer to say that what I have recognized is only the space, the point of space where the arrow is which would be empty if the arrow weren’t there, the empty space which now contains the lion and the space which now contains me, as if in the void of the space we occupy or rather cross – that is, which the world occupies or rather crosses – certain points had become recognizable to me in the midst of all the other points equally empty and equally crossed by the world. And bear this in mind: it isn’t that this recognition occurs in relation, for example, to the configuration of the terrain, the distance of the river or the forest: the space that surrounds us is a space that is always different, I know this quite well, I know the Earth is a heavenly body that moves in the midst of other moving heavenly bodies, I know that no sign, on the Earth or in the sky, can serve me as an absolute point of reference, I also remember that the stars turn the wheel of the galaxy and the galaxies move away from one another at speeds proportional to the distance. But the suspicion that has gripped me is precisely this: that I have come to find myself in a space not new to me, that I have returned to a point where we had already passed by. And since it isn’t merely a question of me but also of an arrow and a lion, it’s no good thinking this is just chance: here time is involved, which continues to cover a trail it has already followed. I could then define as time and not as space that void I felt I recognized as I crossed it.

This passage evokes a feeling of what happens as you try to find your way somewhere you have been before. Suddenly you just know where you are, although roughly, and in which directions other things are.

(I had this experience a few weeks ago when on a long walk around Djurgården in Stockholm. We approached from the opposite direction, in the woods, a place we have been to several times. First I was mistaken, when I saw a place that resembled another place close to where we were going. Then as we came nearer, I realized that this wasn’t it. It was interesting how a similar configuration to that I thought I had seen could evoke such a strong feeling of certainty of location. When we finally came close to where we were going, and I saw another place, another configuration of terrain and trees, I had that same feeling again. And this time I was right.)

Note: Also see my first post on this book.

1 For the passages in Invisible Cities that reminded me of imageability, see my post “On Imageability, Mapmaking, and Architecture as a Way of Thinking About Anything.”

The above was posted to my personal weblog on July 28, 2004. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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