“The Dreams of Italo Calvino,” by Jonathan Galassi – 2
This is the second comment about the article “The Dreams of Italo Calvino,” by Jonathan Galassi who 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. The article was on the issue number 11 of “The New York Review of Books”. See my first comment in this blog.
Now, who is Calvino? Is it correct “he rode the wave of the deconstruction of realistic fiction”—I can add: in a splendid, poetical way—and that “the depicting of the actual was never Calvino’s forte,” correct because he was a utopian poet, a sensitive soul betrayed by the reality just in his dreams. Also in his political dreams, of course. So he tried to create two alternative worlds: that one of an evocative idealised past (“Italian Folktales”), the second one of an imaginary space-time dimension (“Invisible Cities,” “Cosmicomics”). Especially fantasy allows the explosion of his art. He escaped not only the unreasonable everyday events of the political and social Italian life, but also the fall of the ideology—communism—he believed could create a new, just society. As an honest man, as an honest writer, Calvino couldn’t stand the Soviet invasion of Hungary; the widespread conformism of the left-wing party (he wrote “Becalmed in the Antilles,” a satirical allegory of the party’s immobilism, a book ostracized by Parmiro Togliatti and, obviously, forgotten by Galassi); Gramsci’s official story—which requires a dedicated article—and the extremism of the Anni di Piombo, Years of Lead. His declaration “The only possibility is the position of spectator at a distance,” said by an ex-communist, a man who fought with the partisans in the civil war, well explained his torment and his disappointment. The fact that Galassi tries to force Calvino in a pathetic and superficial way “(One can imagine how he would have reacted to Bettino Craxi’s Tangentopoli—Kick-back City—scandal involving widespread public bribery in the 1990s and Berlusconi’s Age of Bunga Bunga)” is only proof of the deep displeasure of the left-wing party in Calvino’s resignation and distance—more and more growing during his life.
As usual, in the pivotal points, Galassi is inaccurate. By the way, Tangentopoli is not Bettino Craxi’s scandal, but a serious scandal that heavily concerned all the Italian parties, the communist party included. But most important are Gallassi’s lapses of memory. For instance, he forgot two main events that are crucial if you want to understand Calvino: his move to Paris in 1967 and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, made in order to halt Dubcek’s Prague Spring political liberalizations reforms.
Not to speak about Prague, Calvino’s move to Paris was an event of great political significance. Before the Second World War, in fact, usually the antifascists gathered in Paris. So Paris was the place where you had to go to escape and reject the regime. Calvino left Italy and went just to Paris. It was another step, well clear, of his existential and political escape road.
The last comment, just not to insist on an unfortunate and unpleasant article: how can Galassi say that Calvino “ventured far, intellectually and artistically, but remained fundamentally rooted, loyal to a cultural tradition that he playfully, exasperatedly, lovingly tested but did not feel the need—or is it the capacity?—to reject,” all that only concerns Galassi’s intellectual (and political) honesty.
Where is Calvino’s “literariness”? Gore Vidal wrote extraordinary essays about it and said that Borges could have written Calvino’s short stories. Where is Calvino’s utopia? His magic dream of lightness?
If Galassi thinks that Calvino’s Cosmicomics are rooted, loyal to the cultural tradition, I cannot add anything else.