When I first started reading the first chapter of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, I had to go back to the first page of the chapter, to make sure that I was reading the book, and not the preface. The entire first chapter is written in second person, a rare POV that is very difficult to control in a book. Of the few people that I have ever read who have written in second person, the writing was dull, dry, and predictable. This text, however, was very interesting to me. It was not outlining my actions, but rather, my ideas, my thoughts. I found myself smiling in agreement, and eagerly reading onward for more secrets and inner thoughts from the author. The idea was so appealing to me, in fact, that I will now try to write my blog in the same way.
I am sitting in my room, no, my living room. My Week with Marilyn is playing in the background, and even though it is very distracting and it is on my own TV, I cannot turn it off. You probably have some background noises too, some music playing, people talking, someone trying to get your attention. You’re in your office, in your room, in your bed, in your bathroom (if your computer is small enough or you have an IPad or something, whatever you do is your business and I don’t need to know the details). You’re probably reading this in a long list of semi-interesting blogs to read. You want to read this, because you read the book last week and had no idea what it was about, but at the same time, you don’t want to read this because now you’re realizing it was written in the same style as that damn book. But you continue, why? Because you’re the teacher, and you’re supposed to. Or, you’re the student, and you’re supposed to. Or you like being well-read, so you want to (good for you, that makes one of us.). I never said you had to, you never really have to do anything. I don’t even have to write this blog for you, but I will because I want the reward of a (hopefully) follower. But now you’re annoyed, aren’t you? Because you’re reading this and thinking I’m not going anywhere, that maybe I didn’t understand the novel either, and so I’m just copying him and now you have two different authors who are trying to confuse you. Sucks, doesn’t it?
Now, what do you think this book is about so far? Hey, that’s not fair, you think, aren’t I supposed to be telling you? Don’t you agree, that the most interesting point of contest is the POV? Who is “you”? Who is the author? Who is writing the alternating chapters? Is the “you” the person reading the chapters? Is he writing the book to a “who” that is someone else? Perhaps. Then why is he using the second person tense? You might ask. The same reason I am using it. He is looping the text. We are a part of it. We are the hyper text within the story, the link between the author and the reader, the “you.” As Calvino writes, “If you, reader… this is simply because I am called “I” and this is the only thing you know about me, but this alone is reason enough for you to invest a part of yourself in the stranger “I”. There is a rule of identity, you, whoever you are, be student, teacher, hobo or astronaut. You each call yourself I. And in that, we are equal. We see mutual bonding and attachment in the letter. If I said, “I love you” wouldn’t you believe me? Because I love the you that is also an I. The I of this book, however, is as indefinable as we are to be defined. The I we know as ourselves, is just about everything we do know. Our whole consciousness revolves around I. And thus, when we hear it, we expect to learn something. But what do we know about our character that is more revealing than the fact that he also uses the word I to define his or herself. And how can we understand or even learn about him, either, when the books he reads, or the beginnings of them, do not finish? In a way, isn’t this book more layered than the House of Leaves? Because now we are the story, we are the reader, we are listening to and talking to the author, but not reading him. We are reading about ourselves. We become the hypertext because the story does not go on without us. We must read on. In other books, the story is there whether we want it to be or not, but in this case, Calvino is telling us what we are doing, and not just what we are reading, but what we are thinking about what we read. As he addresses to us, “what is more natural than that solidarity, a complicity, a bond that should be established between Reader and Reader, thanks to this book?”. Who are you then? You are the reader. Who is the I in the book? He is the reader as well. We become one reader, reading and thinking the same thing, a play within a play. And isn’t that annoying? As I itch to finish so I can watch Lost, I also itch to read and understand and be bewildered. To be the reader who is frustrated at the lack of finish and peace at the beginning of each of his books. And so why do we keep reading? Why are you still reading? Haven’t you realized by now that this blog is all about what I don’t know about this book? Maybe it’s as he says. “I rather enjoy the sense of bewilderment a novel gives you when you start reading it, but if the first effect is fog, I’m afraid the moment the fog lists my pleasure in reading will be lost too.”.