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Cosmic shame

July 14, 2009

I’m currently reading a popular science book called The never-ending days of being dead, by Marcus Chown. It’s not a very new book, but I am cheap and so all my reading material comes either from the very lovely Islington Libraries, in which case it has some hope of being recent, or from the remainder books seller on Euston Road, in which case it probably is a couple of years old but costs like a cup of coffee.

I have only read three chapters so far, hence this is not a book review (although this book review presents more or less my current opinion). I have found these three chapters mind-blowing. Chown presents many new theories about the universe(s), some of them in clear contradiction with one another,  but all attempting to re-write our understanding of the universe in light of the recent developments in science: quantum theory and Einstein’s relativity. Shooting out of the book are images of multiple universes, collisions between pluridimensional plates resulting in the Big Bang, and the four line computer programme that may have created the whole universe.

While metabolising the notion that not only our planet, not only our solar system, not only our galaxy, but not even our universe is anywhere near unique, special or central, another thought carved itself a space into my mind. What could Calvino have created, had he known all of this?

Italo Calvino, undoubtedly my favourite writer, was a XX-century Italian author, mainly of novellas and short stories, as well as few novels and a lot of non-fiction about the art of writing.  In one particular collection of short-stories of his, called Le cosmicomiche in Italian and Cosmicomics in its English translation, he takes scientific theories about cosmology, cosmogony and evolution and re-inteprets them through the tales of a mysterious, ever-present being called Qfwfq. The Light-Years, one of my favourites, sees the main character spot a sign bearing the words “I SAW YOU” coming from another galaxy. Adjusting for the speed at which light travels, he realises that it relates to that specific moment in his life, a moment he’d rather people hadn’t seen. He starts to feel ashamed, sends out messages, waits for other galaxies to react, confusion ensues. [Read all of The Light-Years].

So I wonder, what would Calvino have done with a string-theory version of the universe in which branes collide in the multidimensional world, forming tridimensional universes as a result? How about mass warping space-time? How many more beautiful Cosmicomics are there out there, ripe with new, extraordinary and counter-intuitive scientific theories, that will never get written because, in this universe at least, Calvino is dead?

There is always an artist that you wish lived for ever, or for longer, so that their creations would continue to enlighten your life. I have learnt to read on Calvino’s Fiabe italiane and since being five I was conscious that eventually I would have reached the point of reading all the Calvino that there is to read, because he had died before I was even born. (Happily, I still have a lot of unexplored Calvino ahead of me, but I am keeping it for sweeter years). And yet the other day as I was reading Marcus Chown’s book it really hit me, what a shame it is he is no longer writing.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2009 08:15

    Dear Eleanora,

    Glad you are enjoying my book! I too love Calvino’s COSMICOMICS. I remember all those characters in bed with a voluptuous woman in the big bang and longing to be back with her. And that first fish crawling out onto the land… No one else has written anything like Calvino’s!

    Best wishes,
    Marcus Chown

    PS
    If you look out for my book, THE UNIVERSE NEXT DOOR (Headline), that too explore unusual. frontier ideas that might have appealed to Calvino.

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