A Monday Newsletter (Day 31, 2022)
Italo Calvino + a little more about Tarot | In Four Dimensions . . .
If you missed any of last week’s five-day series on algorithms, prediction, and Tarot—here’s a handy list of links:
As I was researching those topics, I came across some items that have been in my “Tarot Content” file for a while. Several are academic papers, and a few are media stories—collectively covering more territory than you might expect. I’ll include a sampling in February’s newsletters.
For today, the last day of our first month, I had planned to focus on the launch of Tarot | In Four Dimensions. And I’ll update on that below. But as usual, there was an interesting, unexpected dispatch from Serendip.
Notes about Italo Calvino and Tarot
On Sundays I receive a free newsletter from the Paris Review. Not always, but often, it contains something that surprises, inspires, or enlightens me. In the past, I’ve shared some highlights from a Paris Review interview with Ken Kesey, in which he comments on his interest in Tarot. And yesterday brought this intriguing exchange, in a collage of interviews with Italo Calvino.
The images of fortuna and chance recur quite frequently in your fiction, from the shuffling of the tarot cards to the random distribution of manuscripts. Does the notion of chance play a role in the composition of your works?
My tarot book, The Castle of Crossed Destinies, is the most calculated of all I have written. Nothing in it is left to chance. I don’t believe chance can play a role in my literature.
When I stopped to think about this comment, I realized that Calvino’s approach to writing about Tarot has some things in common with my own approach to Tarot divination. In my view, the Tarot is in charge of “chance,” I’m in charge of structure.
Serendipity then led me a little further. I had forgotten that Castle first appears as part of a gorgeous book published by Franco Ricci—Tarots: The Visconti Pack in Bergamo and New York. If you’d like to spend ten minutes on YouTube watching someone page through it, here you go.
The Tavern of Crossed Destinies followed, this time using the Marseilles-type deck instead of the Visconti type. And the two parts together are what we think of now as Calvino’s “Tarot book.” In both parts, stranded travelers find themselves unable to speak, and dependent upon Tarot imagery to tell their stories.
Calvino is a popular writer, and quite a few folks have written about Castle of Crossed Destinies. After scanning several commentaries, I came to this conclusion: Readers who haven’t previously been interested in Tarot tend to see the cards as a literary device that begins to wear thin about halfway through the book. On the other hand, for those reading Calvino’s work from a Tarot perspective, his association of the cards with archetypal themes is fascinating in itself.
In Painting with Words, Writing with Pictures: Word and Image in the Work of Italo Calvino, Franco Ricci offers this observation on Calvino’s use of Tarot:
Art is man's attempt to systematize life events, to place a pattern on causality. Calvino is therefore careful to choose those cultural situations, in this case the magnificently suggestive engravings of the Visconti-Sforza deck and the popular tarot deck of Marseilles, that presuppose new vocabularies and visions of life.
And he quotes this comment from Calvino:
I immediately tried to use the Visconti tarots to construct sequences inspired from the Orlando furioso. It was thus easy for me to construct the central axis of the stories of my 'magic square.' All around, I allowed other stones to take shape that criss-crossed amongst themselves; in this way I obtained a type of crossword puzzle made up of figures instead of words, in which for the most part each sequence may be read in two directions.
Which seems to me a very good description of what can happen when reading a structured spread of Tarot cards.
And that brings us to Tarot | In Four Dimensions.
I’ve committed to launch the series on 2/2/22—mostly for the number harmony! That’s Wednesday of this week, and the new Substack site will be open for business. I’ll post a free outline there of what I’m planning, and you can subscribe anytime if you’re interested.
Three posts will be sent out on Tuesdays in the short month of February, which focuses on the “Personal Dimension.” The “Theory Dimension” gets five Tuesday posts, starting on March 1. The “Method Dimension” unfolds on five Fridays in April, and that takes us into May, with four Sundays for the “Practice Dimension.”
So that’s the calendar view—but of course you can read them on your own timetable.
There will also be some other content available, as well as a downloadable tool for each month:
March—a printable set of 26 flash cards
April—a spreadsheet for use in exploring the methodology
May—additional journal templates keyed to practice sessions
I’ll send EP subscribers a couple of launch reminders over the coming week.
And now it’s farewell to the January Fools. This one from David Palladini’s Tarot—the first deck I ever read with.
Thanks so much for opening today’s email! I’m skipping this week’s Time Capsule in order to focus on the EP launch—but look for another retro revisit on Tuesday, 2/8.