Andreas Feininger, 42nd Street as Viewed from Weehawken, NY, 1942.

The Flash, a Passage by Italo Calvino

“It happened one day, at a crossroads, in the middle of a crowd, people coming and going.

I stopped, blinked; I understood nothing. Nothing, nothing about anything; I didn’t understand the reasons for things or for people, it was all senseless, absurd. And I started to laugh.

What I found strange at the time was that I’d never realized before. That up until then I had accepted everything: traffic lights, cars, posters, uniforms, monuments, things completely detached from any sense of the world, accepted them as if there were some necessity, some chain of cause and effect that bound them together.

Then the laugh died in my throat, I blushed, ashamed. I waved to get people’s attention and “Stop a second!” I shouted, “there’s something wrong! Everything’s wrong! We’re doing the absurdist things! This can’t be the right way! Where will it end?”

People stopped around me, sized me up, curious. I stood there in the middle of them, waving my arms, desperate to explain myself, to have them share the flash of insight that had suddenly enlightened me: and I said nothing. I said nothing because the moment I raised my arms and opened my mouth, my great revelation had been as it were swallowed up again and the words had come out any old how, on impulse.

“So?” people asked, “what do you mean? Everything’s in its place. All is as it should be. Everything is the result of something else. Everything fits in with everything else. We can’t see anything absurd or wrong!”

And I stood there, lost, because as I saw it now everything had fallen into place again and everything seemed natural, traffic lights, monuments, uniforms, towerblocks, tramlines, beggars, processions; yet this didn’t calm me down, it tormented me.

“I’m sorry,” I answered. “Perhaps it was me that was wrong. It seemed that way. But everything’s fine. I’m sorry,” and I made off amid their angry glares.

Yet, even now, every time (often) that I find I don’t understand something, then, instinctively, I’m filled with the hope that perhaps this will be my moment again, perhaps once again I shall understand nothing, I shall grasp that other knowledge, found and lost in an instant.”

—From Numbers in the Dark, a collection of short-short stories by Italo Calvino.

Pictured: Andreas Feininger, 42nd Street as Viewed from Weehawken, NY, 1942.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Matt Murrayreply
April 3, 2011 at 4:36 am

Today I found myself on the internet. I was writing to a poet who asked “Write me a poem, that would be sick!” I’m sick, I will never be well, I don’t even want to be well. Hell or no. So I wrote him a poem. I cyber-connected to him at his website, Cytopoetics, only to find out I am on page two. I am a different person from then to now. I have finally given back.

Luke Stormsreply
April 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm
– In reply to: Matt Murray

Hi Matt,

Thanks for stopping by. I looked online for the poem your describe but couldn’t find it on the site. Have you got a link?

I think we are all different, as you say, from then to now, repeatedly. I also think that we are all sick or broken in some way(s). It’s the human condition. The question is how to accept that I guess, and move on to what we could become.

warm regards,


Rchard Whittakerreply
April 20, 2011 at 5:53 pm

This an excerpt from Italo Calvino? Wonderful. You pick out the good stuff, including the visual.

Luke Stormsreply
April 21, 2011 at 10:10 am
– In reply to: Rchard Whittaker

Thank you, Richard. It is a pretty outstanding passage isn’t it?

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