Let us consider those texts that we like to call "classics." Leaving aside for the moment the reasons why this notion is undergoing a radical review in contemporary criticism, along with the idea of a "canon of great authors," we can say that the "classic" represented the ideal form of the text in a technological age which enforced, through printing, a near perfect isomorphism between the text and its material support, the book. Bound together, almost inseparably, in a "classic" volume, the book and the text occupied both physically and virtually a place of honor on the crowded shelves of the library of humanity. As Bolter writes in the chapter of his book dedicated to "Technology and the Literary Canon": "The idea of a relatively stable canon made sense in a culture dominated by printed books" (Bolter, 237). Today this "ideal form" and the custody of its physical or formal integrity (on various levels, from its practical handling and storing to sophisticated philological, didactic and theoretical techniques meant to preserve its unique status or meaning) seem to belong to a former stage of our civilization of "literacy."

By definition, what we call a "classic" seems to claim the extra-temporality of a model or an ideal type. Yet, all "classics" are in themselves exquisitely temporal and historical devices, true time machines. Read for the first time or reread time and again, belonging to both an individual and a collective memory, and thus marked by the conscious or unconscious traces of multiple prior readings, classics - as Italo Calvino once wrote - "are like comets." Carrying with them "a fine dust of critical discourses," they travel in time and test our own place in time. "In order to be able to read the classics," Calvino says, "one has to establish 'where' one is reading them from, otherwise both the book and its reader are lost in a timeless cloud..." (Calvino, 5-13, our translation).

Following Calvino's suggestion, we want to explore the possible coordinates, or to use Calvino's own words, find the "where" and the "how" of a contemporary reading or rereading of a classic of Italian literature: the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio. This will be a reading or rereading mediated through contemporary technology, in the new learning environment in which communicative and cultural practices as we have known them are being radically transformed.

(M. R.) Italo Calvino, Perchè leggere i classici (Milano: Mondadori, 1995).

Other Pages in Literature: Boccaccio Online