Italo Calvino between a written world and an unwritten one


The pioneering Italian writer Italo Calvino, since his death in 1985 to the present day, has published six non-fiction works that varied between literary criticism and biography, and here is the “Penguin Classic” publishing house, beginning its new year with the publication of its seventh collection, “The Written World and the Unwritten World”, which was launched A number of funny questions about the capacity of the drawers of the magician Calvino to contain all this amount of works, and do those legendary drawers still hide more?

The secret of the “Breaking Count”

Italo Calvino was born in 1923 in Santiago de Las Vegas, a suburb of Havana, Cuba. Two years later, his family moved to Italy to settle permanently in the city of Sanremo, with its warmth protected by the mountains, where the famous scientist Alfred Nobel lived. His father, Mario, was a botanist and pioneer in the cultivation of rare fruits such as avocados and grapefruits, as was his mother, Giuliana Luigia Evelina. This explains his fascination with nature and its pervasiveness in all of his work. Among them is the “Baron who lives in the trees”, that legendary aristocrat who fled in his childhood to the forest and climbed up into the trees, announcing his hesitant position on descending to the ground. But Calvino, who grew up in a family that valued science and underestimated literature, preferred to go down on his parents’ wishes and joined the College of Agriculture. Even in his spare time, he balanced the appeasement of his fantasy-dwelling spirit by reading the works of Elio Vittorini, Eugenio Montale, Cesare Pavese, Johann Huizinga, and Pisacan, and stimulating his scientific thinking with the works of Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, and Einstein. “I belong to that class of people,” says Calvino, “the minority on a planetary scale, though I think they represent the majority of my audience, who pass their day in a private world, a world arranged in horizontal lines where words follow each other, each sentence and each paragraph takes its proper place.” A world that could be so rich, perhaps even richer, than the unwritten world in which I would have to make a special adjustment of myself.

The book in English translation (Penguin House)

From the womb of reading to the rites of birth

Calvino lived a life that seemed made of words, the form that was most adapted to his sight, and in order to step out of his written world into the world based on three dimensions and five senses, he had to experience each time the trauma of birth, the ritual preparation to face the reality, inevitably blurred before his eyes. “Because I am short-sighted, I read without glasses and put them on as soon as I leave the book, while most people do the opposite, i.e. they take off their glasses after reading.”

Calvino unquestionably succeeded in capturing the written world, and completely failed in capturing the unwritten world, he wrote: “Most things I cannot comprehend, from the most general to the most trivial. I often find myself in situations where I do not know how to arrive at it.” Opinion, I choose to suspend judgment.”

In his youth, Calvino had always believed that imaginary worlds could illuminate the real world and vice versa, and as he grew older, he realized that experience within books was always possible, whose range did not extend beyond the space of the page. While for him the outside world remained a stubborn and unpredictable mystery, a world that never ceased to “surprise, scare and confuse” me!

Calvino in an artistic image (author’s page – Facebook)

In Mr. Palomar (1983), Calvino explores the alter ego of his main character, going on to describe the ways in which the five senses learn about the world and keep us imprisoned within our minds. When Palomar contemplates the stars, and faces this infinite immensity of the cosmos, he worries that he cannot decide whether to put on his spectacles when using the telescope, or to take them off: “Is this the subtle geometry of cosmic space that Mr. Palomar has always felt the need to address in order to separate On Earth, home to pointless complications and wild speculations.


between appeasing and challenging the reader


Covering the Written World and the Unwritten World, everything Calvino wrote from 1952 to 1985, in a collection of essays, interviews, correspondence, notes, and fragments, reveals his extraordinary and inspiring approach to writing, reading, and interpreting literature. Some of them were published in separate newspapers during his lifetime, and others did not see the light except with this edition, translated by Ann Goldstein into English for the first time.

The first section includes valuable topics on reading, writing, and the art of translation. Through it, we learn about his favorite writers. Stendhal, Chekhov, Pushkin, Jane Austen, and Katherine Mansfield. As usual for Calvino, he opens the book with a witty prologue before taking us into the depths: “The good reader decided this summer’s holiday that he would actually read this writer.”

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Through the scattered fragments (some collected from his desk unedited, some needing a provenance to be understood), Calvino deftly explores the concept of literature in a rapidly changing world from the classics to the contemporary, and from the traditional to the experimental, through an intelligent discussion of the works of Bakhtin and Brecht. Cortazar, Thomas Mann, Octavio Paz, George Berek, Umberto Eco, Gore Vidal, Salman Rushdie, and other writers. For Calvino to “entertain the reader,” or at least not to bore him, is his first and sure duty. To that end, he disposed of unnecessary weight in his overlapping, or rather complex, ideas: “I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from celestial bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.” “. On the contrary, we are surprised by him responding to a critic who praised his book “Zero Time”, saying: “I am glad that you find it likable, but the more unpopular the book is, the more important it is.”

Calvino has always valued lightness, which is why in his book he invites readers to skip certain passages or chapters in the books he deals with. Including his essay on “Disturbing the Universe” by Freeman Dyson, he advises readers who are strapped for time to start with Chapter Three and then make sure to move on to Chapter Sixteen. Some of the articles in this section deal with the critical theory of the French post-structuralists, and the new novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

On the other side of the words

The book also includes a separate section on fantasy literature, and a final section on scientific books, which Calvino dealt with in a more than wonderful manner, drawing the attention of readers and critics. In addition to some of his most common preoccupations with folktales, his 1956 book Italian Folktales is credited with its widespread popularity as much as it has overshadowed his later work.

The Written World also includes some of his responses to the press’s questions, such as “Why do you write?” He says: “I write because I am not satisfied with what I have already written and I want to correct and complete it, and present an alternative to it,” or because “I have an idea: Oh! How? I can write like X! Unfortunately X is just beyond my means! Then I try to imagine this impossible task, I think of the book I will never write, but I would like to read, to put it next to my other beloved books on a perfect shelf. Suddenly some words and sentences appear in mental”. From another angle, Calvino writes to allow the unwritten world to be revealed through him. He senses that he is about to realize what is at the other end of the words, “something trying to break out of the silence, to pass through the language, like knocks knocking on the walls of a prison.”



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