italo calvino | if on a winter’s night a traveler

30 08 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 197 | August 30, 2009

ITALO CALVINO

“Myth is the hidden part of every story, the buried part, the region that is still unexplored because there are as yet no words to enable us to get there. Myth is nourished by silence as well as by words.” –Italo Calvino

He belongs, like Borges and a handful of others, to that sacred sect of storytellers (one part sorcerer, one part shaman, one part shape-shifter, one part fabulist) that seem to write in the invisible ink of dream.

There’s nothing more important about his life than his work. There’s nothing I can tell that comes even close to reading what he has to tell in his own way.

There are writers who write in English or French or German or Russian or Spanish…and there are writers like Kafka, Borges…and Calvino, who create their own language.

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Chapter 1 (below) of Calvino’s IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER is as good a place to begin as I can imagine. (I stress ‘imagine.’) It’s one of my favorite beginnings in all of literature. –Norbert Blei

[1]

You are about to ‘begin reading Italo Calvlno’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice—they won’t hear you otherwise—”I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.

Find the most comfortable position: seated, stretched out, curled up, or lying flat. Flat on your back, on your side, on your stomach. In an easy chair, on the sofa, in the rocker, the deck chair, on the hassock. In the hammock, if you have a hammock. On top of your bed, of course, or in the bed. You can even stand on your hands, head down, in the yoga position. With the book upside down, naturally.

Of course, the ideal position for reading is something you can never find. In the old days they used to read standing up, at a lectern. People were accustomed to standing on their feet, without moving. They rested like that when they were tired of horseback riding. Nobody ever thought of reading on horseback; and yet now, the idea of sitting in the saddle, the book propped against the horse’s mane, or maybe tied to the horse’s ear with a special harness, seems attractive to you. With your feet in the stirrups, you should feel quite comfortable for reading; having your feet up is the first condition for enjoying a read.

Well, what are you waiting for? Stretch your legs, go ahead and put your feet on a cushion, on two cushions, on the arms of the sofa, on the wings of the chair, on the coffee table, on the desk, on the piano, on the globe. Take your shoes off first. If you want to, put your feet up; if not, put them back. Now don’t stand there with your shoes in one hand and the book in the other.

Adjust the light so you won’t strain your eyes. Do it now, because once you’re absorbed in reading there will be no budging you. Make sure the page isn’t in shadow, a clotting of black letters on a gray background, uniform as a pack of mice; but be careful that the light cast on it isn’t too strong, doesn’t glare on the cruel white of the paper, gnawing at the shadows of the letters as in a southern noonday. Try to foresee now everything that might make you interrupt your reading. Cigarettes within reach, if you smoke, and the ashtray. Anything else? Do you have to pee? All right, you know best.

It’s not that you expect anything in particular from this particular book. You’re the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything. There are plenty, younger than you or less young, who live in the expectation of extraordinary experiences: from books, from people, from journeys, from events, from what tomorrow has in store. But not you. You know that the best you can expect is to avoid the worst. This is the conclusion you have reached, in your personal life and also in general matters, even international affairs. What about books? Well, precisely because you have denied it in every other field, you believe you may still grant yourself legitimately this youthful pleasure of expectation in a carefully circumscribed area like the field of books, where you can be lucky or unlucky, but the risk of disappointment isn’t serious.

So, then, you noticed in a newspaper that If on a winters night a traveler had appeared, the new book by Italo Calvino, who hadn’t published for several years. You went to the bookshop and bought the volume. Good for you.

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:

the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,
the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success,
the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment,
the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,
the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,
the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,
the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.

Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread and the Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.

With a zigzag dash you shake them off and leap straight Into the citadel of the New Books Whose Author Or Subject Appeals To You. Even inside this stronghold you can make some breaches in the ranks of the defenders, dividing them into New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Not New (for you or in general) and New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Completely Unknown (at least to you), and defining the attraction they have for you on the basis of your desires and needs for the new and the not new (for the new you seek in the not new and for the not new you seek in the new).

All this simply means that, having rapidly glanced over the titles of the volumes displayed in the bookshop, you have turned toward a stack of If on a winter’s night a traveler fresh off the press, you have grasped a copy, and you have carried it to the cashier so that your right to own it can be established.

You cast another bewildered look at the books around you (or, rather: it was the books that looked at you, with the bewildered gaze of dogs who, from their cages in the city pound, see a former companion go off on the leash of his master, come to rescue him), and out you went.

You derive a special pleasure from a just-published book, and it isn’t only a book you are taking with you but its novelty as well, which could also be merely that of an object fresh from the factory, the youthful bloom of new books, which lasts until the dust jacket begins to yellow, until a veil of smog settles on the top edge, until the binding becomes dog-eared, in the rapid autumn of libraries. No, you hope always to encounter true newness, which, having been new once, will continue to be so. Having read the freshly published book, you will take possession of this newness at the first moment, without having to pursue it, to chase it. Will it happen this time? You never can tell. Let’s see how it begins.

Perhaps you started leafing through the book already in the shop. Or were you unable to, because it was wrapped in its cocoon of cellophane? Now you are on the bus, standing in the crowd, hanging from a strap by your arm, and you begin undoing the package with your free hand, making movements something like a monkey, a monkey who wants to peel a banana and at the same time cling to the bough. Watch out, you’re elbowing your neighbors; apologize, at least.

Or perhaps the bookseller didn’t wrap the volume; he gave it to you in a bag. This simplifies matters. You are at the wheel of your car, waiting at a traffic light, you take the book out of the bag, rip off the transparent wrapping, start reading the first lines. A storm of honking breaks over you; the light is green, you’re blocking traffic.

You are at your desk, you have set the book among your business papers as if by chance; at a certain moment you shift a file and you find the book before your eyes, you open it absently, you rest your elbows on the desk, you rest your temples against your hands, curled into fists, you seem to be concentrating on an examination of the papers and instead you are exploring the first pages of the novel. Gradually you settle back in the chair, you raise the book to the level of your nose, you tilt the chair, poised on its rear legs, you pull out a side drawer of the desk to prop your feet on it; the position of the feet during reading is of maximum importance, you stretch your legs out on the top of the desk, on the files to be expedited.

But doesn’t this seem to show a lack of respect? Of respect, that is, not for your job (nobody claims to pass judgment on your professional capacities: we assume that your duties are a normal element in the system of unproductive activities that occupies such a large part of the national and international economy), but for the book. Worse still if you belong—willingly or unwillingly—to the number of those for whom working means really working, performing, whether deliberately or without premeditation, something necessary or at least not useless for others as well as for oneself; then the book you have brought with you to your place of employment like a kind of amulet or talisman exposes you to intermittent temptations, a few seconds at a time subtracted from the principal object of your attention, whether it is the perforations of electronic cards, the burners of a kitchen stove, the controls of a bulldozer, a patient stretched out on the operating table with his guts exposed.

In other words, it’s better for you to restrain your impatience and wait to open the book at home. Now. Yes, you are in your room, calm; you open the book to page one, no, to the last page, first you want to see how long it is. It’s not too long, fortunately. Long novels written today are perhaps a contradiction: the dimension of time has been shattered, we cannot love or think except in fragments of time each of which goes off along its own trajectory and immediately disappears. We can rediscover the continuity of time only in the novels of that period when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded, a period that lasted no more than a hundred years.

You turn the book over in your hands, you scan the sentences on the back of the jacket, generic phrases that don’t say a great deal. So much the better, there is no message that indiscreetly outshouts the message that the book itself must communicate directly, that you must extract from the book, however much or little it may be. Of course, this circling of the book, too, this reading around it before reading inside it, is a part of the pleasure in a new book, but like all preliminary pleasures, it has its optimal duration if you want it to serve as a thrust toward the more substantial pleasure of the consummation of the act, namely the reading of the book.

So here you are now, ready to attack the first lines of the first page. You prepare to recognize the unmistakable tone of the author. No. You don’t recognize it at all. But now that you think about it, who ever said this author had an unmistakable tone? On the contrary, he is known as an author who changes greatly from one book to the next. And in these very changes you recognize him as himself. Here, however, he seems to have absolutely no connection with all the rest he has written, at least as far as you can recall. Are you disappointed? Let’s see. Perhaps at first you feel a bit lost, as when a person appears who, from the name, you identified with a certain face, and you try to make the features you are seeing tally with those you had in mind, and it won’t work. But then you go on and you realize that the book is readable nevertheless, independently of what you expected of the author, it’s the book in itself that arouses your curiosity; in fact, on sober reflection, you prefer it this way, confronting something and not quite knowing yet what it is.

{from IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER. A Harvest Book, Harcourt,Brace & Co., 1981


Italo Calvino (15 October 1923 – 19 September 1985)  was an Italian journalist and writer of short stories and novels. His best known works include the Our Ancestors trilogy (1952-1959), the Cosmicomics collection of short stories (1965), and the novels Invisible Cities (1972) and If on a winter’s night a traveler (1979).

Lionised in Britain and America, he was the most-translated contemporary Italian writer at the time of his death, and a noted contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Italo Calvino was born in Santiago de Las Vegas, a suburb of Havana, Cuba in 1923. His father, Mario, was a tropical agronomist and botanist who also taught agriculture and floriculture. Born 47 years earlier in San Remo, Italy, Mario Calvino had emigrated to Mexico in 1909 where he took up an important position with the Ministry of Agriculture. In an autobiographical essay, Italo Calvino explained that his father “had been in his youth an anarchist, a follower of Kropotkin and then a Socialist Reformist”. In 1917, Mario left for Cuba to conduct scientific experiments, after living through the Mexican Revolution.

Calvino’s mother, Eva Mameli, was a botanist and university professor. A native of Sassari in Sardinia and 11 years younger than her husband, she married while she was still a junior lecturer at Pavia University. Born into a secular family, Eva was a pacifist educated in the “religion of civic duty and science”. Calvino described his parents as being “very different in personality from one another”, suggesting perhaps deeper tensions behind a comfortable, albeit strict, middle-class upbringing devoid of conflict. As an adolescent, he found it hard relating to poverty and the working-class, and was “ill at ease” with his parents’ openness to the laborers who filed into his father’s study on Saturdays to receive their weekly paycheck.

In 1925, less than two years after Calvino’s birth, the family returned to Italy and settled definitively in San Remo on the Ligurian coast. Floriano, Calvino’s brother who became a distinguished geologist, was born in 1927.

The family divided their time between the Villa Meridiana, an experimental floriculture station which also served as their home, and Mario’s ancestral land at San Giovanni Battista. On this small working farm set in the hills behind San Remo, Mario pioneered in the cultivation of then exotic fruits such as avocado and grapefruit, eventually obtaining an entry in the Dizionario biografico degli italiani for his achievements. The vast forests and luxuriant fauna omnipresent in Calvino’s early fiction such as The Baron in the Trees derives from this “legacy”. In an interview, Calvino stated that “San Remo continues to pop out in my books, in the most diverse pieces of writing.” He and Floriano would climb the tree-rich estate and perch for hours on the branches reading their favorite adventure stories. Less salubrious aspects of this “paternal legacy” are described in The Road to San Giovanni, Calvino’s memoir of his father in which he exposes their inability to communicate: “Talking to each other was difficult. Both verbose by nature, possessed of an ocean of words, in each other’s presence we became mute, would walk in silence side by side along the road to San Giovanni.” Due to his early interest in stories, having devoured Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book as a child, Calvino felt he was the “black sheep” of a family that held literature in less esteem than the sciences. Fascinated by American movies and cartoons, he was equally attracted to drawing, poetry, and theatre. On a darker note, Calvino recalled that his earliest memory was of a socialist professor brutalized by Fascist lynch-squads. “I remember clearly that we were at dinner when the old professor came in with his face beaten up and bleeding, his bowtie all torn, asking for help.”

Other legacies include the parents’ masonic republicanism which occasionally developed into anarchic socialism. Austere, anti-Fascist freethinkers, Eva and Mario refused giving their sons any religious education. Italo attended the English nursery school, St George’s College, followed by a Protestant elementary private school run by Waldensians. His secondary schooling was completed at the state-run Liceo Gian Domenico Cassini where, at his parents’ request, he was exempted from religious instruction but forced to justify his anticonformist stance. In his mature years, Calvino described the experience as a salutary one as it made him “tolerant of others’ opinions, particularly in the field of religion, remembering how irksome it was to hear myself mocked because I did not follow the majority’s beliefs”. During this time, he met a brilliant student from Rome, Eugenio Scalfari, who went on to found the weekly magazine L’Espresso and La Repubblica, Italy’s major newspaper. The two teenagers formed a lasting friendship, Calvino attributing his political awakening to their university discussions. Seated together “on a huge flat stone in the middle of a stream near our land”, he and Scalfari founded the MUL (University Liberal Movement).

Eva managed to delay her son’s enrolment in the Fascist armed scouts, the Balilla Moschettieri, and then arranged that he be excused, as a non-Catholic, from performing devotional acts in church. But later on, as a compulsory member, he could not avoid the assemblies and parades of the Avanguardisti, and was forced to participate in the Italian occupation of the French Riviera in June 1940.

In 1941, Calvino dutifully enrolled at the University of Turin, choosing the Agriculture Faculty where his father had previously taught courses in agronomy. Concealing his literary ambitions to please his family, he passed four exams in his first year while reading anti-Fascist works by Elio Vittorini, Eugenio Montale, Cesare Pavese, Huizinga, and Pisacane, and works by Max Planck, Heisenberg, and Einstein on physics. Disdainful of Turin students, Calvino saw himself as enclosed in a “provincial shell” that offered the illusion of immunity from the Fascist nightmare: “We were ‘hard guys’ from the provinces, hunters, snooker-players, show-offs, proud of our lack of intellectual sophistication, contemptuous of any patriotic or military rhetoric, coarse in our speech, regulars in the brothels, dismissive of any romantic sentiment and desperately devoid of women.”

Calvino transferred to the University of Florence in 1943 and reluctantly passed three more exams in agriculture. By the end of the year, the Germans had succeeded in occupying Liguria and setting up Benito Mussolini’s puppet Republic of Salò in northern Italy. Now twenty years old, Calvino refused military service and went into hiding. Reading intensely in a wide array of subjects, he also reasoned politically that, of all the partisan groupings, the communists were the best organized with “the most convincing political line”.

In spring 1944, Eva encouraged her sons to enter the Italian Resistance in the name of “natural justice and family virtues”. Using the battlename of “Santiago”, Calvino joined the Garibaldi Brigades, a clandestine Communist group and, for twenty months, endured the fighting in the Maritime Alps until 1945 and the Liberation. As a result of his refusal to be a conscript, his parents were held hostage by the Nazis for an extended period at the Villa Meridiana. Calvino wrote of his mother’s ordeal that “she was an example of tenacity and courage… behaving with dignity and firmness before the SS and the Fascist militia, and in her long detention as a hostage, not least when the blackshirts three times pretended to shoot my father in front of her eyes. The historical events which mothers take part in acquire the greatness and invincibility of natural phenomena.”

Calvino settled in Turin in 1945, after a long hesitation over living there or in Milan. He often humorously belittled this choice, describing Turin as a “city that is serious but sad”. Returning to university, he abandoned Agriculture for the Arts Faculty. A year later, he was initiated into the literary world by Elio Vittorini who published his short story Andato al commando (1945; Gone to Headquarters) in Il Politecnico, a Turin-based weekly magazine associated with the university. The horror of the war had not only provided the raw material for his literary ambitions but deepened his commitment to the Communist cause. Viewing civilian life as a continuation of the partisan struggle, he confirmed his membership of the Italian Communist Party. On reading Lenin’s State and Revolution, he plunged into post-war political life, associating himself chiefly with the worker’s movement in Turin.

In 1947, he graduated with a Master’s thesis on Joseph Conrad, wrote short stories in his spare time, and landed a job in the publicity department at the Einaudi publishing house run by Giulio Einaudi. Although brief, his stint put him in regular contact with Cesare Pavese, Natalia Ginzburg, Norberto Bobbio, and many other left-wing intellectuals and writers. He then left Einaudi to work as a journalist for the official Communist daily, L’Unità, and the newborn Communist political magazine, Rinascita. During this period, Pavese and poet Alfonso Gatto were Calvino’s closest friends and mentors.

His first novel, Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (The Path to the Nest of Spiders) written with valuable editorial advice from Pavese, won the Premio Riccione on publication in 1947. With sales topping 5000 copies, a surprise success in postwar Italy, the novel inaugurated Calvino’s neorealist period. In a clairvoyant essay, Pavese praised the young writer as a “squirrel of the pen” who “climbed into the trees, more for fun than fear, to observe partisan life as a fable of the forest”. In 1948, he interviewed one of his literary idols, Ernest Hemingway, traveling with Natalia Ginzberg to his home in Stresa.

Ultimo viene il corvo (The Crow Comes Last), a collection of stories based on his wartime experiences, was published to acclaim in 1949. Despite the triumph, Calvino grew increasingly worried by his inability to compose a worthy second novel. He returned to Einaudi in 1950, responsible this time for the literary volumes. He eventually became a consulting editor, a position that allowed him to hone his writing talent, discover new writers, and develop into “a reader of texts”. In late 1951, presumably to advance in the Communist party, he spent two months in the Soviet Union as correspondent for l’Unità. While in Moscow, he learned of his father’s death on 25 October. The articles and correspondence he produced from this visit were published in 1952, winning the Saint-Vincent Prize for journalism.

Over a seven-year period, Calvino wrote three realist novels, The White Schooner (1947-49), Youth in Turin (1950-51), and The Queen’s Necklace (1952-54), but all were deemed defective. During the eighteen months it took to complete I giovanni del Po (Youth in Turin), he made an important self-discovery: “I began doing what came most naturally to me – that is, following the memory of the things I had loved best since boyhood. Instead of making myself write the book I ought to write, the novel that was expected of me, I conjured up the book I myself would have liked to read, the sort by an unknown writer, from another age and another country, discovered in an attic.” The result was Il visconte dimezzato (1952; The Cloven Viscount) composed in 30 days between July and September 1951. The protagonist, a seventeenth century viscount sundered in two by a cannonball, incarnated Calvino’s growing political doubts and the divisive turbulence of the Cold War. Skillfully interweaving elements of the fable and the fantasy genres, the allegorical novel launched him as a modern “fabulist”. In 1954, Giulio Einaudi commissioned his Fiabe Italiane (1956; Italian Folktales) on the basis of the question, “Is there an Italian equivalent of the Brothers Grimm?” For two years, Calvino collated tales found in 19th century collections across Italy then translated 200 of the finest from various dialects into Italian. Key works he read at this time were Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale and Historical Roots of Russian Fairy Tales, stimulating his own ideas on the origin, shape and function of the story.

In 1952 Calvino wrote with Giorgio Bassani for Botteghe Oscure, a magazine named after the popular name of the party’s head-offices. He also worked for Il Contemporaneo, a Marxist weekly. From 1955 to 1958 Calvino had an affair with the actress Elsa de’ Giorgi, an older and married woman. Calvino wrote hundreds of love letters to her. Excerpts were published by Corriere della Sera in 2004, causing some controversy.

In 1957, disillusioned by the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, Calvino left the Italian Communist party. His letter of resignation was published in L’Unità and soon became famous. He found new outlets for his periodic writings in the magazines Passato e Presente and Italia Domani. Together with Vittorini he became a co-editor of Il Menabò di letteratura, a position which Calvino held for many years.

Despite severe restrictions in the US against foreigners holding communist views, Calvino was allowed to visit the United States, where he stayed six months from 1959 to 1960 (four of which he spent in New York), after an invitation by the Ford Foundation. Calvino was particularly impressed by the “New World”: “Naturally I visited the South and also California, but I always felt a New Yorker. My city is New York.” The letters he wrote to Einaudi describing this visit to the United States were first published as “American Diary 1959-1960″ in the book Hermit in Paris in 2003.

In 1962 Calvino met the Argentinian translator Esther Judith Singer (Chichita) and married her in 1964 in Havana, during a trip in which he visited his birthplace and met Ernesto Che Guevara. This encounter later led him to contribute an article on 15 October 1967, a few days after the death of Guevara, describing the lasting impression Guevara made on him. Back in Italy, and once again working for Einaudi, Calvino started publishing some of his cosmicomics in Il Caffè, a literary magazine.

Vittorini’s death in 1966 influenced Calvino greatly. He went through what he called an “intellectual depression”, which the writer himself described as an important passage in his life: “…I ceased to be young. Perhaps it’s a metabolic process, something that comes with age, I’d been young for a long time, perhaps too long, suddenly I felt that I had to begin my old age, yes, old age, perhaps with the hope of prolonging it by beginning it early.” In the fermenting atmosphere that evolved into 1968’s cultural revolution (the French May), he moved with his family to Paris in 1967 where he was nicknamed L’ironique amusé. Invited by Raymond Queneau to join the Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) group of experimental writers, he met Roland Barthes, Georges Perec, and Claude Lévi-Strauss, all of whom influenced his later production.

Calvino had more intense contacts with the academic world, with notable experiences at the Sorbonne (with Barthes) and at Urbino’s university. His interests included classical studies: Honoré de Balzac, Ludovico Ariosto, Dante, Ignacio de Loyola, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Giacomo Leopardi. At the same time, not without surprising Italian intellectual circles, Calvino wrote novels for Playboy’s Italian edition (1973). He became a regular contributor to the important Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. In 1975 Calvino was made Honorary Member of the American Academy, and the following year he was awarded the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. He visited Japan and Mexico and gave lectures in several American towns. In 1981 he was awarded the French Légion d’honneur. During the summer of 1985, Calvino prepared some notes for a series of lectures to be delivered at Harvard University in the fall. However, on 6 September, he was admitted to the ancient hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, where he died during the night between the 18 and 19 September of a cerebral hemorrhage. His lecture notes were published posthumously in Italian in 1988 and in English as Six Memos for the Next Millennium in 1993.

His style is not easily classified; much of his writing has an air of the fantastic reminiscent of fairy tales (Our Ancestors, Cosmicomics), although sometimes his writing is more “realistic” and in the scenic mode of observation (Difficult Loves, for example). Some of his writing has been called postmodern, reflecting on literature and the act of reading, while some has been labeled magical realist, others fables, others simply “modern”. He wrote: “My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.”

Authors he helped publish

  • * Mario Rigoni Stern
  • * Gianni Celati
  • * Andrea De Carlo
  • * Daniele Del Giudice
  • * Leonardo Sciascia

Selected bibliography

Fiction

  • * Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno, 1947 / The Path to the Nest of Spiders, 1957
  • * Ultimo viene il corvo / The Crow Comes Last, 1949
  • * Il visconte dimezzato, 1952 / The Cloven Viscount, 1962
  • * La formica argentina, 1952
  • * Fiabe Italiane, 1956 / Italian Folktales, 1961, 1975, 1980
  • * Il barone rampante, 1957 / The Baron in the Trees, 1959
  • * La speculazione edilizia, 1957 / A Plunge into Real Estate, 1984 (in Difficult Loves)
  • * I racconti, 1958
  • * Il cavaliere inesistente, 1959 / The Nonexistent Knight, 1962
  • * I nostri antenati, 1960 / Our Ancestors, 1962
  • * La giornata d’uno scrutatore, 1963 / The Watcher and Other Stories, 1971
  • * Marcovaldo ovvero le stagioni in città, 1963 / Marcovaldo or the Seasons in the City, 1983
  • * La nuvola di smog e La formica argentina, 1965 / Smog and The Argentine Ant, 1971 (in the Watcher and Other Stories)
  • * Cosmicomiche, 1965 / Cosmicomics, 1968
  • * Ti con zero, 1967 / t zero, 1969 (also published as Time and the Hunter, 1970)
  • * Il castello dei destini incrociati, 1969 / The Castle of Crossed Destinies, 1979
  • * Gli amori difficili, 1970 / Difficult Loves, 1984
  • * Le città invisibili, 1972 / Invisible Cities, 1974
  • * Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore, 1979 / If on a winter’s night a traveler, 1981
  • * Palomar, 1983 / Mr. Palomar, 1985
  • * Cosmicomiche vecchie e nuove, 1984
  • * Sotto il sole giaguaro, 1986 / Under the Jaguar Sun, 1988
  • * Prima che tu dica ‘Pronto’, 1993 / Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories, 1996

Essays and other writings

  • * Orlando furioso di Ludovico Ariosto, 1970 (interpretation of the epic poem and selections)
  • * Autobiografia di uno spettatore / Autobiography of a Spectator, 1974 (preface to Fellini’s Quattro film)
  • * Introduction to Faits divers de la terre et du ciel by Silvina Ocampo (preface by Jorge Luis Borges), Gallimard, 1974
  • * Una pietra sopra: Discorsi di letteratura e società, 1980 / The Uses of Literature, 1986 (published in Britain as The Literature Machine, 1987)
  • * Racconti fantastici dell’ottocento, 1983 / Fantastic Tales, 1997 (anthology of classic supernatural stories)
  • * Science et métaphore chez Galilée / (Science and Metaphor in Galileo Galilei), 1983 (lectures given at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes de la Sorbonne in Paris)
  • * The Written and the Unwritten Word, 1983 (first published in the New York Review of Books)
  • * Collezione di sabbia / Collection of Sand, 1984 (journalistic essays from 1974-84)
  • * Lezioni americane: Sei proposte per il prossimo millennio, 1988 / Six Memos for the Next Millennium, 1993
  • * Sulla fiaba, 1988
  • * I libri degli altri. Lettere 1947-1981, 1991 (letters to writers)
  • * Perché leggere i classici, 1991 / Why Read the Classics?, 1993

Autobiographical works

  • * L’entrata in guerra, 1954
  • * La strada di San Giovanni, 1990 / The Road to San Giovanni, 1993
  • * Ermita a Parigi. Pagine autobiografiche, 1994 / Hermit in Paris, 2003
  • * Album Calvino, 1995

Libretti

  • * La panchina. Opera in un atto (The Bench: One-Act Opera), 1956 (libretto for the opera by Sergio Liberovici)
  • * La vera storia, 1982 (libretto for the opera by Luciano Berio)
  • * Un re in ascolto (A King Listens), 1984 (libretto for the opera by Luciano Berio)

Translations

  • * I fiori blu, 1967 (The Blue Flowers by Raymond Queneau)
  • * La canzone del polistirene, 1985 (Styrène’s Song by Raymond Queneau)

Selected filmography

  • * Boccaccio ’70, 1962 (co-wrote screenplay of Renzo e Luciano segment directed by Mario Monicelli)
  • * L’Amore difficile, 1963 (wrote L’avventura di un soldato segment directed by Nino Manfredi)
  • * Tiko and the Shark, 1964 (co-wrote screenplay directed by Folco Quilici)

Film and television adaptations

  • * The Nonexistent Knight by Pino Zac, 1969 (Italian animated film based on the novel)
  • * Amores dificiles by Ana Luisa Ligouri, 1983 (13′ Mexican short)
  • * L’Aventure d’une baigneuse by Philippe Donzelot, 1991 (14′ French short based on The Adventure of a Bather in Difficult Loves )
  • * Fantaghirò by Lamberto Bava, 1991 (TV adaptation based on Fanta-Ghirò the Beautiful in Italian Folktales)
  • * Solidarity by Nancy Kiang, 2006 (10′ American short)

Awards

  • * 1946 – L’Unità Prize (shared with Marcello Venturi) for the short story, Minefield (Campo di mine)
  • * 1947 – Riccione Prize for The Path to the Nest of Spiders
  • * 1952 – Saint-Vincent Prize
  • * 1959 – Bagutta Prize
  • * 1960 – Salento Prize for Our Ancestors
  • * 1963 – Veillon Prize
  • * 1973 – Feltrinelli Prize for Invisible Cities
  • * 1976 – Austrian State Prize for European Literature
  • * 1981 – Legion of Honour
  • * 1982 – Nice Festival Prize

Films on Calvino

  • * Damian Pettigrew, Calvino Cosmorama (ARTE France, National Film Board of Canada, 2009). At his home in Piazza Campo Marzio (Rome) in 1983, Calvino granted a series of filmed interviews on his work to Canadian director Damian Pettigrew. The transcripts were published in The Paris Review in 1992, in La Repubblica in 1995, and in book form in Italy under the title, Uno scrittore pomeridiano in 2003. The videos now serve as the basis of a major documentary which features rare archival footage, unpublished documents and photographs, and a unique recording of Calvino reading from his last novel, Mr. Palomar.

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