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Monday, February 16, 2009

Calvino in the New Yorker.

What happens on the earth when a moon dies is not easy to describe; I’ll try to do it by referring to the last instance I can remember. Following a lengthy period of evolution, the earth had more or less reached the point where we are now; in other words, it had entered the phase when cars wear out more quickly than the soles of shoes. Beings that were barely human manufactured and bought and sold things, and cities covered the continents with luminous color. These cities grew in approximately the same places as our cities do now, however different the shape of the continents was. There was even a New York that in some way resembled the New York familiar to all of you, but was much newer, or, rather, more awash with new products, new toothbrushes, a New York with its own Manhattan that stretched out dense with skyscrapers gleaming like the nylon bristles of a brand-new toothbrush.

In this world where every object was thrown away at the slightest sign of breakage or aging, at the first dent or stain, and replaced with a new and perfect substitute, there was just one false note, one shadow: the moon. It wandered through the sky naked, corroded, and gray, more and more alien to the world down here, a hangover from a way of being that was now outdated.

Ancient expressions like “full moon,” “half-moon,” “last-quarter-moon” continued to be used but were really only figures of speech: how could we call “full” a shape that was all cracks and holes and that always seemed on the point of crashing down on our heads in a shower of rubble? Not to mention when it was a waning moon! It was reduced to a kind of nibbled cheese rind, and it always disappeared before we expected it to. At each new moon, we wondered whether it would ever appear again (were we hoping that it would simply disappear?), and when it did reappear, looking more and more like a comb that had lost its teeth, we averted our eyes with a shudder.

It was a depressing sight. We went out in the crowds, our arms laden with parcels, coming and going from the big department stores that were open day and night, and while we were scanning the neon signs that climbed higher and higher up the skyscrapers and notified us constantly of new products that had been launched, we’d suddenly see it advancing, pale amid those dazzling lights, slow and sick, and we could not get it out of our heads that every new thing, each product that we had just bought, could similarly wear out, deteriorate, fade away, and we would lose our enthusiasm for running around buying things and working like crazy—a loss that was not without consequences for industry and commerce.

That was how we began to consider the problem of what to do with it, this counterproductive satellite. It did not serve any purpose; it was a useless wreck. As it lost weight, it started to incline its orbit toward the earth: it was dangerous, above and beyond anything else. And the nearer it got the more it slowed its course; we could no longer calculate its phases. Even the calendar, the rhythm of the months, had become a mere convention; the moon went forward in fits and starts, as though it were about to collapse...