«At the onset, the art of solving jigsaw puzzles appears to be one of little substance […]: the final outcome […] is not the sum of individual unique elements to be distinguished from each other and analysed individually, but rather as a whole, as an entity. The existence of a single element does not precede the existence of the overall entirety, it comes neither before nor after it, as the individual pieces do not determine the pattern, but rather the pattern determines the path […]. You can stare at the pieces of a puzzle for three whole days thinking that you can know all about its colours and configuration, without making any progress in its solution. The only way forward is to connect the pieces».
La vie mode d’emploi (Life: A User’s Manual), a masterpiece by the French author George Perec, is built like a puzzle. There appears to be a complete lack of plot and the text appears to be a series of unrelated fragments. In actual fact, the author has followed a strict pattern of rules and cross-references that have resulted in a jigsaw puzzle that appears to decompose the unit into apparently meaningless fragments.
The real challenge for the reader is to reconstruct the form and the logic of the text, in a manner similar to the self-imposed efforts of the main character of the book – the billionaire Bartlebooth. His final goal is to make hundreds of watercolours, then to transform them into as many puzzles composed of 750 pieces each and then to ultimately destroy them all, however, paradoxically, he will never succeed in achieving this goal. For thousands of years, the objective of human thought - philosophy, the arts, literature and religion - has been to give unity to the multiplicity of reality which appears to be irrational and unclear – and very difficult to depict. Art, however, responds to the need to shape our world through our thoughts and actions, by transforming and connecting the infinite pieces of life and passion into a unique design that places man at its centre.
Postmodernism reverses this objective by tossing man into a tempest of rough seas composed of endless fragments of reality. It is in this representation of multiplicity that art can extract new lymph and inspiration, as has been explained by one of the masters of Italian contemporary writing, Italo Calvino, in his Six Memos for the Next Millennium, on this same topic. «Someone might object that the more the work tends toward the multiplication of possibilities, the further it departs from that unicum which is the self of the writer, his inner sincerity and the discovery of his own truth. But I would answer: who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopaedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable».
How can we represent the infinite multiplicity of the world and of life itself?
Text by Arianna Catania
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