“The Dreams of Italo Calvino,” by Jonathan Galassi – 1
Angelo keeps feeding me with books, articles, and documents. His precious kindness helped me also during my return to Italy, in this hot end of July. So I could count on the last issue of “The New York Review of Books” to read during long hours of flight. Especially the article “The Dreams of Italo Calvino,” by Jonathan Galassi caught my full attention, then unchaining a great disappointment. Galassi speaks about “Letters, 1941 – 1985,” by Italo Calvino, selected and with an introduction by Michael Wood and translated from the Italian by Martin McLaughlin, Princeton University Press.
I read almost every work of Italo Calvino—I like Calvino—and many of his letters. So I was curious about some new points of view, also because there are thousands of Calvino’s letters. So it is easy to make interesting discoveries—on condition that intellectual honesty has to be kept, of course, otherwise you can extract everything you want from a gigantic amount of phrases, statements, considerations and judgements expressed throughout an entire life.
Now Galassi starts well, saying “Calvino’s refined, gently pessimistic, humane irony rode the wave of the deconstruction of realistic fiction… , gently unmasking narratorial trade secrets and reminding readers of the self-reflexive nature of the fictional game, while continuing to deliver appetizing fabulist delights.” Correct. And Galassi is right when he commented “the depicting of the actual was never Calvino’s forte. Even in his first, most realistic novel, inspired by his partisan experience, the young hero undergoes rites of passages perhaps more proper to the realm of the fairy tale. Fantasy allowed him a kind of detachment, a freedom from self that he aspired to in writing and ‘a burst of energy, action, optimism… which contemporary reality does not inspire in me.’ He rejected as ‘decadent’ autobiography, introspection, egocentrism…”
The first thing that hurt me was the description of the contest in which Calvino developed his work: “Postwar Italian fiction offered an embarrassment of riches as substantial as that of any other European country, starting with Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s magisterial, post-humously published “The Leopard”—thought it might arguably be considered the last great novel of the old school.” Forgetting, in fact, Galassi’s superficial consideration about “any other European country” (!), the citation of Tomasi di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard” as the last great novels of the old school is strange altogether, a wrong note. What is that “old school” of which Galassi is talking about? It seems that there were only two literary movements in Italy, one before and the second after the war and that the first one was nothing but a sort of “old fashioned” realism. What about Pirandello then? And D’Annunzio, and Cesare Pavese, just to make some examples of different schools? Or his phrase is only a springboard to launch the new, embedded “new school”?
But Galassi seems not satisfied and writes, “These writers (now he is talking about Giorgio Bassani, Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Carlo Emilio Gadda, Natalia Ginzburg, Leonardo Sciascia, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Primo Levi—I will talk later about this group of artists) portrayed a still near-feudal society emerging into industrialization.” I doubt that Galassi knows what a feudal society was, and surely he is misinformed about the level of industrialization reached by Italy, not in the 1950s but in the 1930s—compared with the level of any other European country, of course.
But again Galassi gives us a new splendid pearl saying “(Postwar Italy was) an American client state with an independent, competent, and Popular Communist party in active opposition to the ruling Christian Democratic coalition.”
I can understand if a man decides to stockpile his brain following an ideology, whatever it could be, OK, but frankly I don’t understand how and why “The New York Review of Books” can host such froths.
Italy was not an American client state, but it democratically chose, through free election, to side with the Western culture, history, nations, and military forces (NATO). The Italian population freely elected the Christian Democratic Coalition just against the Communist party, in 1948, and so the Christian Democratic Coalition was not ruling thanks to some divine or monarchic right as Galassi seems to suggest, but thanks to the result of free, democratic elections.
More to the point, the Communist party was not independent! Galassi pretends to forget that the chief of the Communist Party was back then Palmiro Togliatti, Stalin’s right hand; that throughout all its life the PCI (the Italian Communist party) was the most loyal, embedded, lined up party for the USSR, among all the other communist parties in Europe; that the PCI received a huge amount of funds from the USSR, every year until the 1970s.
Independent? What a strange adjective in a very clear and ‘in agreement’ phrase.
Galassi’s disinformation reaches its peak speaking about Calvino’s resignation from the PCI, “He resigned from the Party,” Galassi writes, “in 1957 in protest against its hard-line conformism, writing that he ‘had hoped that the Italian Communist Party would put itself at the head of an international renewal of Communism…’” So Galassi forgets, or rather he pretends to ignore the pivotal episode of the Soviet invasion of Hungary, in 1956. Hundreds of intellectuals, artists and militants left the PCI that never condemned the invasion—and the same happened in all Communist parties in Europe. It was a historical spin-off that left a deep wound in the consciences of the left-wing coalition people.
Some first, logical questions:
How and why Galassi forgets Hungary and the following, historical spin-off inside the Communist party?
How can Galassi speak about Calvino by erasing that episode that so much affected Calvino’s whole life and sensibility?
Speaking about Calvino’s letters, how can Galassi forget Calvino’s letter of resignation, well famous, published in L’Unità on the 7th of August 1957, in which he explained the reason of his dissent, the violent suppression of the Hungarian uprising and the revelation of Stalin’s crimes?
Again, going back to literature, is it possible to approach Calvino’s art using such ideological and misleading key?
Don’t miss next week’s continuation.