The Written World and the Unwritten World

Italo Calvino in The Paris Review:

I belong to that portion of humanity—a minority on the planetary scale but a majority I think among my public—that spends a large part of its waking hours in a special world, a world made up of horizontal lines where the words follow one another one at a time, where every sentence and every paragraph occupies its set place: a world that can be very rich, maybe even richer than the nonwritten one, but that requires me to make a special adjustment to situate myself in it. When I leave the written world to find my place in the other, in what we usually call the world, made up of three dimensions and five senses, populated by billions of our kind, that to me is equivalent every time to repeating the trauma of birth, giving the shape of intelligible reality to a set of confused sensations, and choosing a strategy for confronting the unexpected without being destroyed.

This new birth is always accompanied by special rites that signify the entrance into a different life: for example, the rite of putting on my glasses, since I’m nearsighted and read without glasses, while for the farsighted majority the opposite rite is imposed, that is, of taking off the glasses used for reading. Every rite of passage corresponds to a change in mental attitude. When I read, every sentence has to be readily understood, at least in its literal meaning, and has to enable me to formulate an opinion: what I’ve read is true or false, right or wrong, pleasant or unpleasant. In ordinary life, on the other hand, there are always countless circumstances that escape my understanding, from the most general to the most banal: I often find myself facing situations in which I wouldn’t know how to express an opinion, in which I prefer to suspend judgment.

More here.