Spring 2021
—From the Editors

In March 2020, as campus life shuddered to a halt and v.1 scrambled to reconfigure in the midst of overwhelming disorder, one of us editors was gifted a copy of Six Memos for the Next Millennium, a series of lectures by Italo Calvino. It quickly became a primary quarantine reader, pored-over and quoted, dog-eared and marked-up.

Feeling the anxiety of a new era approaching with fifteen years left in the second millennium, Calvino centered each lecture around a “value” of literature that he felt should be maintained and celebrated: Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, and Multiplicity (the sixth lecture, on Consistency, was, ironically, never written). These memos served both to reappraise what was behind and to illuminate the path ahead, to analyze the past and offer a guide to the future. Calvino intended to perform these lectures in the fall of 1985, but he passed away, unexpectedly, that September.

A year after we first found Six Memos, two of Calvino’s values in particular still ring out to us. Lightness, as Calvino describes it, is a “reaction to the weight of living.” Lightness balances the heaviness, inertia, opacity of the world; it is the only thing that keeps the world from “turning to stone.” After all, he points out, it is Perseus’s spry use of wind, winged sandals, and his aversion to Medusa’s direct stare that allows him to conquer her. He reflects her gaze through a mirror—“His power derives from refusing to look directly while not denying the reality of the world of monsters in which he must live.” The second value we might readily recognize today is Multiplicity: the ambitious aim to engage with as many stories, images, and ideas as possible toward reconciling disparate worlds. Multiplicity means radical inclusivity, it means ceaseless exploration and research, it means to reach beyond the self and into the infinite matrix of other people. Calvino exalts the “encyclopedic epics” of James Joyce, Georges Perec, and Jorge Luis Borges to explain that “the grand challenge for literature is to be capable of weaving together the various branches of knowledge, the various ‘codes’ into a manifold and multifaceted vision of the world.”

The chaos of the new millennium has proved to be beyond what anyone—even Calvino—could have predicted. Six Memos doesn’t attempt to provide an antidote to chaos; instead, it offers a methodology with which to process, document, and understand. It presents a coping mechanism, a roadmap, asking that we treat language with reverence, care, and intention. That we believe in literature and invest in the power of association and simultaneity.

The notion of simultaneity is crucial for us to move forward. Impossibly, there is hope in the shadow of tragedy and vice-versa, there is complacency in the shadow of urgency and vice-versa, there is abnormality in the shadow of normalcy and vice-versa. An acclaimed art installation murders its viewers. A densely populated city appears empty. A failed attempt at pie presents a silver lining. An arbitrary hunk of metal becomes a standard unit of measurement. The shape of the universe emerges in the pursuits of fictional characters. Life is generated as kombucha ferments. We find ourselves through being other people. The future is accessed only through the grief and reflection.

Despite the challenges and restrictions of the past year, v.1 has sought to do for RISD’s literary scene what it has always sought to do: to archive the past, to understand the present, and to speculate on the future. Given the circumstances—physical dispersion, emotional overwhelm, intellectual burnout—we’ve attempted to implement Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, and Multiplicity selectively, alternately, and/or simultaneously (like Calvino, no comment on Consistency). In the first months of the pandemic, we opted for an urgent, portable stream of publishing: a “pandemic publishing” issue online that was agile, instantaneous, and vivid in the face of unstoppable, invisible doom. In the fall, we convened readers, writers, and new students for a Zoom reading, and found equal space for both celebration and mourning in our Fall 2020 issue. Our Spring 2021 issue finds a new threshold of familiarity in the wake of these changes with a new online issue, and the anthology you’re holding in your hands.

The print edition documents the Multiplicity of these past 14 months holistically, moving not chronologically but atmospherically through the various themes and motifs of this year: our contentious relationship with normalcy, our personal and cultural archives, the push-and-pull of art institutions, the pursuit of togetherness. The anthology collects poems, images, essays, and fiction to weave together a quilt from the loose threads of the past three semesters. The result is a fabric that attests not just to the qualities of the individual strands, but also to the places where the tapestry as a whole might thin, fray, or rip. This selection, of about half the stories published online, represents the variances, glitches, contradictions, and simultaneities of RISD voices throughout this era. We arranged each piece intuitively, through association and rhythm, through their varying weights, speeds, contours, opacities, and singularities.

What we “used to” and what we’re “used to” have intermeshed; we are finding ourselves doing recognizable things in recognizable spaces for what feels like the first time ever. A year of Google Drive folders and Canvas modules made desperate the need for something grabable, shelvable, foldable, stainable, even disposable (you can’t use a PDF as a makeshift coaster). We are printing v.1 again, “just like before,” but this time, it exists in simultaneity with the ongoing digital archive, with the new forums and approaches, the new chronologies and coping mechanisms. This physical anthology serves to ground our readers and writers in the tangible reality we can look forward to facing again, together: something concrete that contains dog-ears, mark-ups, notes, and bookmarks. To hold the material in your hands is to feel the paper, its weight and its lightness, to have proof of before, now, and soon.

Asher White
Reilly Blum
Corinne Ang
Shelby Shaw
Sabo Kpade
(editors, v.1)