English: An original card from the tarot deck of Jean Dodal of Lyon, a classic “Marseilles” deck. The deck dates from 1701-1715. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sic. You know i am into catchy phrases, but there is something else… It’s that a genius is presumably so exceptional and so out of ordinary, that it’s beyond critique – and often – even beyond the comprehension of us, the mortals.
Let alone that no one really knows what’s genius (except that we all agree Da Vinci, Einstein and Tesla were that ), sometimes being genius in one field obviously doesn’t mean the individual in question can transplant that geniousness onto something else – or – better to say, on anything else.
If you wonder what got me into this flow of thought – it’s that i am reading Italo Calvino’s Tarot inspired book – The Castle of Crossed Destinies… Meh. I’ve been hunting it for years and only this time in Moscow i bumped into a forgotten (and damaged) copy laying somewhere at the sides of a big, flashy bookstore in my neighborhood.
Not sure why i thought Calvino’s would be any different than Pavic’s – or of any other good (or even great) writer who thought his genius writing style sufficed to bite into something as complex and as mystical as Tarot is. You see, it’s not enough. It takes way more than being good (or even great) with words to write about Tarot – given that in your writings you aspire to any depth and any subtext.
I loved Calvino’s others books, he’s simply a great writer. The beginning of the Castle sounded promising – again, at first it’s the master storytelling that gets you… But what it comes down to?
It seems what Calvino did is the following – he shuffled and pulled the cards randomly and than wrote whatever association came to his (rich) imagination.
Which is good, and every single serious Tarotist did it – as a learning exercise. That’s what you do, when you are just starting to learn reading Tarot de Marseilles; you pull the cards randomly, arrange them in a line, pay attention to the body language of the figures depicted – and tell the story.
If you are somewhat gifted for writing and more so if you were diligent in your high school history classes – you’ll end up with a good story and most probably – with a great story.
Then you learn to read the Tarot as cartomancers do… and a whole new paradigm, a whole ‘brave new world’ opens up for you.
That space, the discourse between you and the cards – it’s sacred and i won’t pollute your experience by retelling mine, but whomever did it – knows it’s deep and overwhelming and mind blowing… Oftentimes it’s beyond verbalization, but when peeps who were brave enough and nerdy enough to let the Tarot paradigm infuse their minds, those who were opened enough (and mad enough) to live the Tarot experience… when they start putting those into words, in their very words – and often in between them, you feel the Light, or that which we normally name ‘geniusness’.
I am not saying Calvino’s book is not good – it is of course, but not more than that – and somehow i did expect more.
The thing is that many great minds – such as Joseph Campbell, who co-authored a book on Tarot ( “Tarot Revelations”, Joseph Campbell and Richard Roberts)- in their work touched on Tarot and left it at that…
Sad, because one can’t but think – what if… What if those great minds really spent prolonged periods of time with their decks, without presuming that they can put it to some use, as it is?
Mary Greer writes on Jung and Tarot. I claim Mary to be genius – and here is why: i’ve studied from her books and i’ve been reading her posts on certain Tarot forum and in several facebook groups, see – firstly she has an out-of-ordinary capacity to learn, digest and deconstruct enormous quantities of both scientific data and mystical texts; she found the proverbial middle way – not being a slave to facts, but not falling into mishy-mashy pseudo-scientific discourse to which many of esoteric authors are inclined. You see – to achieve that balance when working with the occult – is genius. Also, Mary is movingly honest in her search – and from Socrates onwards all great minds were such. See, that – the honesty in one’s search for truth – is the main reason that Thomas Aquinas by most in academia is not even considered to be a philosopher; the thing with him is that he ‘knew’ the truth and by various means is manipulating you into his believes and views… that’s dogma, not philosophy, no matter how skillful the orator.
So, for myself, when defining a genius i follow the notorious ‘i know it when i see it’ – and it is so; we all have this or that author to whom we are partial, but we mostly agree on who among them is genius.
Calvino’s writing style is genius, it’s a gift and when you read his work, even in a dreaded translation, you feel it, you feel that 1% of something, that can’t be put into words and which can’t be achieved with the proverbial 99% of sweating. Calvino has it in his words, my pet peeve is that he thought it sufficed to write on Tarot.
Once again, his is a good book – and even a great one, if you don’t have a clue about Tarot; the thing is that equally well written texts you can find on aeclectic.net if you go to the Tarot de Marseilles subforum and dig out some older threads there… You know what? You’ll find way better written texts there – because the peeps who authored them – Le Fanu of the Curious Cabinet, Paul Nagy, Enrique Enriques , Jean- Michel David and others with great gift for words wrote those – and that’s after having spent years and decades with the cards.
Tarot-wise, i grew up on that forum, so while reading Calvino’s book, i can’t stop myself from thinking: Italo, my man, you should have tried harder…
“Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”
― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities