If on a winter's night a traveler
How we cite our quotes:
If you start arguing she'll never let you go. Now she is inviting you to a seminar at the university, where books are analyzed according to all Codes, Conscious and Unconscious, and in which all Taboos are eliminated, the ones imposed by the dominant Sex, Class, and Culture. (5.17)
Your first impression of Lotaria reveals that she is a student at "the university," where she scorns people like her sister who read for pleasure without trying to "clarif[y] the problems" in a book. How dare they read for pleasure!
Lotaria's reading practices are obsessively political and have little to do with the pleasure of reading. She doesn't appreciate, but only analyzes books according to many academic frameworks like psychoanalysis, feminism, and Marxism. You can tell from the tone of this passage alone that Calvino paints a pretty unsympathetic picture of her, compared to people who read for pleasure. Down with literary criticism! (Wait, can we say that?)
"It's not easy: they teach us to read as children, and for the rest of our lives we remain the slaves of all the written stuff they fling in front of us. I may have had to make some effort myself, at first, to learn not to read, but now it comes quite naturally to me. The secret is not refusing to look at the written words. On the contrary, you must look at them, intensely, until they disappear." (5.60)
This guy, Irnerio, has strangely enough taught himself how not to read. He's fed up with all the writing in advertisements and signs that bombard him daily, and so he's learned to literally look through words. By looking at words very intensely, he's able to make them meaningless. For example, you can look at the words in front of you and think of them as scribbles across a screen instead of anything meaningful. You can also repeat a word over and over again in your mouth until it just becomes a noise. Go ahead. Give it a try. We'll wait…
"Who do you think would come? Who do you think remembers the Cimmerians any more? In the field of suppressed languages there are many now that attract more attention… Basque… Breton… Romany… They all sign up for those. Not that they study the language: nobody wants to do that these days… They want problems to debate, general ideas to connect with other general ideas. My colleagues adjust, follow the mainstream." (5.82)
Professor Uzzi-Tuzii mentions that his subject—the Cimmerian language—doesn't get studied by anyone anymore. Sounds like pretty much everyone's experience in grad school, right? And sure enough, Calvino is poking fun at institutions of higher learning, which often teach subjects that have little relevance to today's real-world problems. Actually, not only do they teach unimportant things, but they teach these things according to changes in fashion. Example? At certain points, certain dead languages are "cooler" than others. Also, the professor seems to criticize students like Lotaria, who aren't actually interested in learning anything concrete about a language, but only in debating larger, general problems and connecting large ideas to one another. At least on this point, Calvino's with the professor. Though it's not saying much to say that Calvino likes you more than Lotaria.