If on a winter's night a traveler
How we cite our quotes:
"I would like to swim against the stream of time: I would like to erase the consequences of certain events and restore an initial condition. But every moment of my life brings with it an accumulation of new facts, and each of these new facts brings with it its consequences; so the more I seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out, the further I move away from it." (2.10)
The speaker of If on a winter's night a traveler makes a direct statement on his relationship to time and how he wishes he could change it. He'd love to get back to some new beginning, but this is impossible for him, since every attempt to do so just piles up a bunch of new history, changing him and his situation.
It's kind of like what Heraclitus meant when he said you can't step into the same river twice (we all know that reference, right?). Also, the speaker leaves traces in the book even as he wonders about these things; after all, he's also accumulating more and more black ink as your reading eyes move across the page. In this early passage, Calvino gives us a taste of the desire for innocence that he will explore more thoroughly in characters like Ludmilla and Mr. Cavedagna.
"When I got here my first thought was: Maybe I achieved such an effort with my thoughts that time has made a complete revolution; here I am at the station from which I left on my first journey, it has remained as it was then, without any change." (2.35)
The man tries to explain to Madame Marne in the station that he wishes he could make clocks "run backward," or that he could suddenly go back in time and relive his life from the beginning. (Maybe all he really needs is a Ford Delorean and a Flux Capacitor.) Why does he want all this? Because he can't bear to lose out on all of the potential things he could have done with his life, like maybe date Madame Marne when he and she were younger and more beautiful. It's this love of pure potential that makes the man want to go back in time; and this innocent desire for pure potential in how a story might unfold is exactly what Calvino is trying to provoke in you by giving you only the beginnings of novels. For Calvino, this innocent love of potential makes for ideal reading, and this book's major goal is to teach you this kind of reading.
Irnerio's eyes have broad, pale, flickering pupils; they seem eyes that miss nothing, like those of a native of the forest, devoted to hunting and gathering. (5.61)
Ludmilla's innocence is what makes her Calvino's ideal reader, right? But in this passage, you have to wonder if Irnerio is even more innocent than she is. After all, Irnerio avoids reader expectations altogether by teaching himself not to read. In the description Calvino gives here, it seems as if Irnerio has gone beyond innocence and reached a state of wildness, like a "native of the forest." The mention of hunting and gathering specifically refers to a stage of human culture that came before the invention of reading and writing. Calvino uses Irnerio to help his readers stay in touch with the fact that there is a limit to language, and that in order to keep an open mind to reading, we should always keep this limit in mind.