Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino

We've finished the first three tales in Italo Calvino's fantastical book The Castle of Crossed Destinies. In the book a group of travelers, inexplicably struck dumb, try to communicate through tarot cards and gestures. I have read many books in the past by authors that are intentionally vague, or that require the reader to "read between the lines." But this book is unique in that it is made up almost entirely of assumptions made by the narrator, both about what each storyteller "must have been trying to say," and about what the other travelers at the castle were thinking. The narrator often gives more than one interpretation for each segment (card) of a tale, and many of his assumptions are far-fetched, even impossible (at the end of one tale, he concludes that the teller must have been hacked to pieces, eventhough the two are sitting across the table from one another, both reasonably healthy).

I have, to date, spent approximately one-third of my life living in cultures other than my own (the percentage is even higher if you include the five years I spent in eastern Washington). I have spent many hours in situations similar to the one described here by Calvino. I have had long 'conversations' with people with whom I do not share a common language. Living abroad, I've spent many hours trying to explain 'American culture' to people who, quite often, don't have a clue, and then had to return to my homeland and try to explain to my fellow Americans a culture that, to them, is mysterious at best.

Over the years I've found that language is often worthless, and logic overrated, in working with special needs kids, their parents and (especially) school administrators, even just trying to understand the current political situation. Assumptions are made daily in traffic, on the bus, reading a blog... How much of what we're trying to say, what we think we're communicating, is really getting across?

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