If on a winter’s night a traveler

I want to conceal, in the midst of so many illusory ghosts of myself, the true me, who makes them move.

In a network of lines that intersect

Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler details your quest to finish a series of novels, your reading of which never makes it further than the first chapter for a variety of reasons. In the process of doing so, you strike up a relationship with a fellow reader, chase a mischievous translator around the globe and even end up working for intelligence agency of a state that may not actually exist. Every other chapter is related in the second-person, although whether the character called you is, in fact, you is toyed with and deconstructed, with you at one point shifting to refer to your fellow reader mid-coitus.

At one point in this exploration of authorship, readership and identity, the troubled author Silas Flannery writes the following in his diary:

I have had the idea of writing a novel composed only of beginnings of novels. The protagonist could be a Reader who is continually interrupted. The Reader buys the new novel A by the author Z. But it is a defective copy, he can’t go beyond the beginning…

Silas Flannery, the diary of Silas Flannery

This reminded me, of all things, of The Legacy of Totalitarianism in a Tundra, 4chan’s /lit/ board’s communally-written 2014 masterwork. Whereas Calvino’s point is dulled by the foreknowledge that the entire book is, ultimately, Calvino’s work, and each element, even the most self-referential and clever, has been intentionally placed, Legacy‘s authorship delivers a greater sense of authenticity to the exploration of authorship and intent. There were still authors for Legacy, many of them, but the book reads as a battle more than a collaboration. For example, the following section:

Harry B read the newspaper. It said:

Did you come to Babylon to see the soul of men, or for pleasure, or simply as a wanderer lost, lost as I was before I found Harry, or lost like that great span of time between the birth of the universe and your own, which is not accessible to you (and not meant for you), but which you can touch, poignantly, as a single piece in a grand puzzle, by finding your place in time, vast time, is that perhaps what you seek here, your place or your time – if so, I mourn, for you will not find it. It is not accessible to you (and not meant for you), for it is hidden, hid by me, shattered and spread through this city of mankind, like dust or motes of air, and there is not room in that short span of a single life to restore it, this is the individual tragedy, but also majesty; build your own so that others may find it, write your will so that other may listen and learn, and some day, in some far distant future in which the world is no longer the same and no longer like ours, on that day some soul shall rebuild Babylon and the soul shall then read this book and understand it thoroughly.

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The Legacy of Totalitarianism in a Tundra

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