think of one man, of that man’s trivialnfortunes or misfortunes, though he benthat very man.” Borges wants to deciphernwords and language as a means of reachingnthe ultimate meaning behind them,nbut he realizes that to penetrate thisnrealm would be to arrive at a silencenbeyond the power of man to create or tonfathom.nIhe possibilities afforded by wordsnand language are also the focus of ItalonCalvino’ s If on a winter’s night a traveler.nIn fact, the book has no plot, characterization,ndialogue or narration apart fromnthe subject of reading and language. Thenunnamed narrator is himself a readernwho has just purchased and is readingnCalvino’s book. This reader-narrator’snattempts to read the novel, however, arenperpetually interrupted by stories withinnthe text. As a result of purported publishingnerrors, wrongly labeled manuscriptsnand other anomalies, he ends upnreading the beginning of ten differentnstories—each of which stops at its mostnclimactic point. The frustrated narratorreaderngoes to the library to check out allnten books, but none is available. Instead,nhe is consoled by several other bibliomaniacsnwho offer him their ownntheories on the nature of reading: thenfirst says that the purpose of reading is tonrefer one to the outside world as yetnanother kind of text to interpret. The secondnreplies that the text itself will revealna “new discovery among the folds of thensentence.” The third proposes that atnevery rereading a book changes, since thenreader himself has changed. The fourthnasserts that everything he reads belongsnonly to one volume—parts of his tome ofncollected readings. The fifth finds innbooks a reminder of the primordial mythnwhich all literary works vaguely echo.nThe sixth reads for beginnings and fornthe promise contained in every “incipit.”nThe seventh searches in conclusions fornthe unwritten, ultimate conclusionnwhich they all prefigure. Finally, thennarrator-reader-author reveals his ownntheory of reading:nSOinChronicles of CulturenGentlemen, first I must say that innbooks I like to read only what is written,nand to connect the details withnthe whole, and to consider certainnreadings as definitive; and I like tonkeep one book distinct from thenother, each for what it has that is differentnand new; and I especially likenbooks to be read from beginning tonend. For a while now, everything hasnbeen going wrong for me: it seems tonme that in the world there now existnonly stories that remain suspended ornget lost along the way.nSuch desires seem ironic since Calvinongratifies none of them; the author is interestednonly in the ways in which literaturencan function independent of thenauthor, the reader, even the text.nThroughout If on a winter’s night a traveler,nhe investigates these possibilitiesnand touches briefly on some modern criticalnapproaches to reading. Among thesenare the nationalist questions involved innthe usage of language; the inevitabilitynof errors in translation; the pohtical implicationsnof texts; the problems posednby textural interruptions resulting fromnartistic crises; the threat posed to authenticnliterary pieces by apocrypha; the statusnof diaries written by those of questionablensanity; the computer analysis ofnbooks as a mode of criticism; the feministnapproach to texts. Mixed with these arenquestions concerning the statos of life andnart, bizarre scenarios of censorship, thenterrorist aspect of literature and literarynattempts to abolish nature in favor of thenabstract. All these are relevant and entertaining,nbut what is at stake goes beyondneither relevance or entertainment.nAll these approaches to language revealnthat Calvino, like Borges, is intriguednwith the word and entrancednwith the very fiction he parodies. Like thenauthors he depicts, Calvino seeks then”ideal reader” who is passionatelyndevoted to reading, driven by an insatiablenthirst to discover the ultimate story.nCalvino himself has fallen under thenspell and says: “The novel I would mostnlike to read at this moment . . . shouldnnnhave as its driving force only the desire tonnarrate, to pile stories upon stories, withoutntrying to impose a philosophy of lifenon you.” But he must know that allnstories impose a philosophy—even if it isnachieved only by its purported absence.nThe implicit philosophy in Calvino’snnovel is not, as one might expect, that allnstories are only nonsensical fragments,nbut rather that all stories contain magicnand power—even if they are incomplete,nmistranslated or parodic. In fact, Calvino’snbook seems to bear witness to thenfact that even the nonsensical, incompletenand fragmented has meaning—nthat the written word always containsnsome seed of truth. As a fictional head ofncensorship says, “I have understood mynlimitations. … In reading, somethingnhappens over which I have no power….nWe can prevent reading: but in the deaeenthat forbids reading there will still bensomething of the truth that we wouldnwish never to be read.” It is this tmth fornwhich Calvino searches and which Borgesnseeks. Each recognizes that his stories arenpart of a still-greater story, that everynwork of art is, in a sense, unfinishednbecause the ultimate denouement hasnyet to be staged. Some might assert thatnsuch a credo gives way to writing in whichnno conclusions are reached, narrativenflow is constantly interrupted, dialoguenis fragmentary and the point of view isnparodic, suggesting that these featuresnrob literature of its meaning and make antravesty of both words and story. But,nultimately, it is impossible for words tonmean nothing; the modern writer’s experimentationnwith language is not andesecration but a testimony to its indestructibility.nBorges’s and Calvino’s playing withnwords indicates not their contempt fornlanguage, but their awe. Like ancientnman, these modern writers believe thatnthere is a word that creates and calls existenceninto being, one which explains,nembodies and saves. Implicit in everythingnthese men write is their hope ofnstumbling upon this absolute wordnwhich will enable them finally to write inn”the handwriting of God.” Dn