In 1985, Italo Calvino gave a series of lectures at Harvard University titled "Six Memos for the Next Millennium." The book, published posthumously, includes five memos on the themes of Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, and Multiplicity as they relate to literature and writing. Calvino's sixth and final memo, titled Consistency, was never written. In an attempt to speculate on this missing memo, an AI named ChatGPT was trained on Calvino's writing style and fed prompts and hints about the unknown memo. The resulting text, written by the AI and accompanied by AI-generated images, explores the concept of consistency in literature and the opposition between consistency and multipotentiality. The text remains in its original form, including grammatical quirks and errors, and serves as a playful exploration of new tools available to writers and storytellers.
First, I will begin by quoting myself about my unfinished Memo on the subject of consistency: “To be consistent means to be faithful to the original idea, not to let oneself be seduced by the temptation of variety for its own sake, to return always to the guiding thread.” In literature, consistency refers to the coherence and continuity of a story, characters, and themes throughout a work. It ensures that all elements of the story fit together logically and support the overall message or narrative. Consistency helps maintain the reader’s interest and immersion in the story. One example of consistency in literature is Herman Melville’s short novel “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” In this story, the titular character is a scrivener who consistently refuses to do any work, repeatedly responding with the phrase “I would prefer not to.” Despite the attempts of the narrator to understand and help Bartleby, he remains steadfast in his refusal, ultimately leading to his downfall. Gilles Deleuze, in his essay “Bartleby; or, The Formula”, writes that Bartleby’s consistency is what keeps him alive, as it is the only thing he has left to hold onto in the face of the indifferent world around him. Bartleby’s consistency is ultimately his downfall, but it is also the only thing that gives his life meaning.
Despite these connotations and from the perspective of our art, which is that of creating: Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”As someone who is interested in the concept of “Consistency” in literature, I immediately address its opposite, welcoming the concept of “Multipotentiality” and I will devote this last lecture to the opposition between multipotentiality and consistency, and will very much probably uphold the values of multipotentiality. This does not mean that I consider the virtues of consistency any less compelling, but simply that I have more to say about multipotentiality. After many years of writing fiction, exploring various roads, and making diverse experiments, the time has come for me to look for an overall definition of my work. I would suggest this: my working method has more often than not involved the exploration of multiple ideas, directions, and possibilities. I have tried to embrace multipotentiality, sometimes in my characters, sometimes in my story settings, and sometimes in my language; above all, I have tried to incorporate multipotentiality into the structure of my stories. In this talk, I shall try to explain — both to myself and to you — why I have come to consider multipotentiality a value rather than a defect; to indicate the works of the past in which I recognize my ideal of multipotentiality, and to show where I situate this value in the present and how I project it into the future. Multipotentiality refers to the possession of multiple interests, talents, or potential careers by a character for example. This can add depth and complexity to a character’s personality, and can also provide opportunities for character development and plot advancement. One example of multipotentiality in literature is the character of Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice.” Elizabeth is an intelligent and independent young woman who is interested in many things, including literature, nature, and social justice. She is also a skilled dancer, musician, and conversationalist. Despite the societal pressures of her time and place, Elizabeth remains true to herself and her multiple interests, ultimately finding happiness and fulfillment. In his essay “The Virtues of Multipotentiality in Literature,” literary critic David Bloom writes that Elizabeth’s multipotentiality is what makes her such a relatable and enduring character, as it allows her to navigate the complex social and personal challenges of her world. Elizabeth’s multipotentiality is both a source of strength and a source of conflict, but it ultimately allows her to find her own path and happiness.
Multipotentiality is the possession of multiple interests and potential careers. In a project that involves producing one piece of art per day, exploring multipotential ideas and directions can add depth and complexity to the daily production of art. This flexibility and openness can be crucial for the development of a story or characters, allowing the creator to experiment and discover new paths and possibilities. In this sense, the concept of multipotentiality can be seen as a valuable and necessary aspect of artistic creation. While it may be tempting to strive for consistency and predictability in our work, it is ultimately multipotentiality that allows us to create truly great literature and achieve success in our projects. Or to use Anton Chekhov’s words, “Multipotentiality is the foundation of virtue.” By embracing multiple ideas and directions, and incorporating multipotentiality into our work, we can create something truly unique and valuable. While some people may have a clear and singular passion or “true calling,” others may find that they have many interests and potential careers. These individuals, known as multipotentialites, may feel like they are unable to commit to one specific path or may be labeled as indecisive or unfocused. However, Emilie Wapnick argues that this type of multipotentiality can actually be a great strength and opportunity.
In her TED talk “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling,” Wapnick explains that multipotentialites have a unique ability to bring together different skills and knowledge from various fields, allowing them to approach problems and create solutions in creative and innovative ways. Multipotentiality should not be seen as a deficiency or a lack of focus, but rather as a unique and valuable trait. She encourages multipotentialites to embrace their many interests and explore them all, rather than feeling pressure to conform to traditional paths or pigeonhole themselves into one specific role. Rather than trying to fit into one specific career or calling, multipotentialites can embrace their diverse interests and skills, allowing them to approach problems and create solutions in new and innovative ways.
In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the myth of Achelous, among others, is told as a tale of transformation and adaptability. In the myth, Hercules and Achelous, the god of rivers, engage in a battle for the hand of Deianira, a beautiful mortal woman. During the fight, Achelous transforms into various forms, including a bull, a serpent, and a deer, but Hercules remains victorious and wins Deianira’s hand in marriage: after being defeated by Hercules, Achelous is humiliated and must retreat from the battle. He is no longer able to compete for Deianira’s hand in marriage and must accept Hercules as the victor. It is not specified what happens to Achelous after this, but it is likely that he continues to reside in his realm as the god of all the rivers.
Despite his best efforts, Achelous was ultimately defeated by Hercules. However, this story demonstrates the strength and power of multipotentiality, as Achelous was able to adapt and transform in order to survive and thrive in difficult situations. His ability to take on different forms and functions is a true demonstration of multipotentiality. The story of Achelous can be seen as a metaphor for the challenges and opportunities of multipotentiality. Just like Achelous, individuals with multiple interests may face obstacles and challenges as they navigate between different paths. However, their ability to adapt and transform can also provide them with unique strengths and opportunities. As I journey through this literary landscape, I hope to still uncover hidden gems and be able to create something truly unique and original. I would as a writer delve deep into the lives and adventures of a whole tribe of Achelous-like characters and uncover the challenges and opportunities of their ability to adapt and transform, convinced that the true dramaturgical strength of the myth of the consistent Hercules resides in the multipotential Achelous.
Consistency is often associated with the idea of perfection, as it involves maintaining order and coherence in a work of literature or other creative endeavors. On the other hand, multipotentiality, with its emphasis on adaptability and the joy of chaos, can be seen as embracing imperfection and the unpredictable.
Tim Harford's book "Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives" discusses the concept of "messy" or the joy of chaos as a strength of multipotentiality. In contrast to the traditional emphasis on order and predictability, messiness celebrates the unpredictable, chaotic, and unknown. From a writing perspective, this concept can lead to more creative, innovative, and original stories and characters. This same concept is exemplified in Brian Eno’s game “Oblique Strategies,” which is based on the idea of embracing randomness and uncertainty. By encouraging players to embrace the unknown and honor their mistakes as hidden intentions, the game seeks to foster creativity and innovation. Brian Eno is a musician, composer, and record producer who is known for his innovative and experimental approach to music. In one instance, Eno was working with the Velvet Underground and wanted to help them achieve a more unique and innovative sound. To do this, he switched the instruments of the band members, so that the guitarist played the drums, the drummer played the guitar, and so on. This forced the band members to think outside of their usual roles and approach their music from a different perspective. The result was a completely new and original sound that the band had never achieved before. By embracing uncertainty and unpredictability, Eno was able to push the band to try new things and break out of their usual routine. This story illustrates the value of multipotentiality and the joy of chaos in achieving creative and innovative results. By embracing multiple ideas and directions, and allowing for a degree of unpredictability, artists can push the boundaries of their craft and create something truly original and unique.
As we delve into the world of science, we come across the concept of entropy - a measure of disorder in a system. But don't be mistaken, this does not necessarily mean chaos or imperfection. Entropy simply measures the dispersal of energy in a system from our own ordered perspective. However, the concept of the disorder can change depending on the context or frame of reference. This is known as "relative entropy," which suggests that the measure of disorder is not absolute, but relative to the set of physical rules that define it. Take the example of a gas, which appears disordered and chaotic under classical mechanics, yet appears highly ordered and structured under quantum mechanics. This highlights the importance of considering the perspective and context in which a system is being observed, as well as the limitations of using a single set of laws to understand the complexity and diversity of the natural world. In this sense, entropy is not a reflection of chaos or imperfection, but simply another way of looking at the world in a multipotential ecosystem.
Just like multipotential cells, or stem cells, have the ability to transform into various cells with specialized functions, the multipotential stage in writing allows for the exploration of multiple ideas, directions, and possibilities. This flexibility and openness are crucial for the development of a story or characters, allowing the writer to embrace chaos, experiment, and discover new paths and possibilities, a valuable and necessary aspect of literary creation.
As I reached the end of the lecture, my thoughts turned to tarot and the figure that might represent the path we had taken so far. The Two of Pentacles stood out to me, with its depiction of a person juggling two pentacles. This symbolized the need to balance multiple responsibilities and interests, a concept that resonated deeply with my work. The card represents adaptability and flexibility, the ability to respond to changing circumstances while maintaining balance and harmony. These are qualities I greatly admire and strive to embody in my own life. The card also hints at a desire for variety and exploration, and the tension between staying true to one's original ideas and embracing new experiences - themes that I find endlessly fascinating and relevant to my own journey. As I thought about this card and its connection to my own life and work, with all the different roles and responsibilities I have to juggle, the need to adapt to change became clear. The Two of Pentacles represents the individual who is able to remain consistent in their pursuits while also being adaptable to change. It captures the essence of multipotentiality, the ability to pursue multiple interests and passions without losing sight of one's overarching goals, leading to an endless, eternal span of time, as depicted by the symbol of the infinite on the card. I couldn't help but feel a sense of true unity with this figure as if it were speaking directly to me.
Calvino, Italo. Six Memos for the Next Millennium. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.
Deleuze, Gilles. "Bartleby; or, The Formula." In Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974, trans. Mike Taormina. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004, 105-119.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. New York: Modern Library, 1950.
Bloom, David. The Virtues of Multipotentiality in Literature. (n.d.).
Eno, Brian. Oblique Strategies. London: Opal, 1975.
Harford, Tim. Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. New York: Riverhead Books, 2016.
Melville, Herman. Bartleby the Scrivener. New York: Putnam, 1853.
Wapnick, Emilie. "Why Some of Us Don't Have One True Calling." TED Talk, TED, February 2015, https://www.ted.com/talks/emilie_wapnick_why_some_of_us_don_t_have_one_true_calling/up-next.