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Italo Calvino and the Compass of Literature

Italo Calvino and the Compass of Literature

Eugenio Bolongaro
  • Book Info
    Italo Calvino and the Compass of Literature
    Book Description:

    Looking at five of Italo Calvino's often neglected early novels:The Young People of Po,The Cloven Viscount,The Baron in the Trees,The Non-Existent Knight, andThe Watcher, Eugenio Bolongaro argues that these works, written between 1948 and 1963, contain a sustained meditation on the role of the intellectual and on the irreducible ethical and political dimension of literature. This meditation provides an insight into a crucial moment in Calvino's development as a writer, and allows Bolongaro to lay the groundwork for a more 'political' reading of Calvino's later work.

    Italo Calvino and the Compass of Literaturefirmly situates Calvino within his historical context - the cultural revival of post-World War II Italy - by relating these early novels to Calvino's political and critical writings which played an important role in the cultural debates of the time. This approach provides a key to understanding Calvino's work in a new light, ably demonstrating that Calvino's full literary significance cannot be understood in isolation from the politics and cultural movements of the period. One of the few book-length English-language works on Calvino's early writings,Italo Calvino and the Compass of Literaturwill prove to be an indispensable tool to Italianists and literary studies scholars.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7634-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    Italo Calvino is unquestionably one of the most widely discussed and admired Italian writers of the second half of the twentieth century. The scholarship on his oeuvre is vast and includes a wide range of book-length studies published on both sides of the Atlantic. In this context, the first question that anyone encountering this volume may ask is, Why another book on Calvino? This is a pertinent question, and answering it allows me not only to explain what differentiates my work from the many other valuable studies, but also to define in a more general way this book’s approach to...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Italy at the Crossroads, 1943–1963
    (pp. 12-46)

    By all accounts the period between 1943 and 1963 was pivotal in the emergence of contemporary Italy.¹ Politically, these two decades are framed by the Resistance to the Nazi occupation of the country and the belated inauguration of the first centre-left government. The former event began in 1943 after the collapse of the Fascist regime and lasted until the end of World War II in 1945. The latter took place in 1962, when the fourth Fanfani cabinet won a confidence vote from parliament thanks to the support of the Partito Socialista Italiano (Italian Socialist Party; PSI), thus establishing the coalition...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Italo Calvino: From Neo-realism to the Fantastic
    (pp. 47-80)

    The discussion of the cultural debates that took place in post-war Italy provides us with the intellectual horizon within which Calvino’s works need to be situated. It is important to reiterate that Calvino played an active role in all the key moments of the historical narrative that occupied us in the previous chapter. In 1943, Calvino joined the Garibaldi Brigades, which were operating in the mountains near San Remo, the Ligurian city where he grew up. His experience of the Resistance was at first hand and would bear fruit literarily in his widely acclaimed first novel,The Path to the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Baron in the Trees: The Utopian Moment in Calvino’s Fantastic Trilogy
    (pp. 81-130)

    The Baron in the Treesis the second work of the fantastic trilogy that occupied Calvino during the 1950s. Approaching this novel after our discussions ofI giovaniandThe Viscountallows us to see the evolution of Calvino’s concerns and appreciate elements of continuity and discontinuity that might otherwise have eluded us. In fact, it is striking how the final configuration reached by the narrative inThe Viscountprovides the point of departure forThe Baron.

    As we have seen, at the end of the first novel of the trilogy, the lucidity and energy of the narrator’s discourse suddenly...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Non-existent Knight: Obstinacy without Illusions
    (pp. 131-160)

    At the end ofThe Baron, the utopian impulse that propelled the narrative of Cosimo’s adventures yields to the narrator’s pessimism and nostalgia. This final configuration is marked by ambiguity. Having learned to mistrust the narrator’s interpretation of events and to read often against the grain of his reflexive discourse, the reader cannot take Biagio’s nostalgia as authoritative. The hopes of a more rational and just social order raised by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution may fade in the post-Waterloo age of restoration. And yet, unlike Biagio, the reader knows that the conservative involution sanctioned by the Congress of...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Watcher: The Intellectual in the Labyrinth
    (pp. 161-190)

    In the previous chapter I argued thatThe Knightconfronts in a more focused and direct manner the larger theoretical issues that the previous works of the trilogy raise either explicitly or implicitly. At the thematic level, the problematic of the social role of the progressive intellectual becomes a meditation on the being of the writer, and more particularly on the tripartite relation between the writer as ethical subject, the social world within which such a subject is located, and the cognitive potential of writing as engagement/intervention in that world. At the structural level, the architecture ofThe Knightexplicitly...

  10. Conclusion: Literature as an Ethical Project
    (pp. 191-196)

    In 1962, Calvino met Esther Judith Singer. Two years later they married. Their daughter, Abigail, was born in 1965, and in 1967 the whole family moved to Paris, where Italo and Esther hadt first met. Calvino’s life had taken a new turn. Artistically, Calvino abandoned the novel and the realist mode of theThe Watcher. The collection of science fiction short stories he published under the titleCosmicomicsin 1965 overbrimmed with vitality and cleverness, inaugurating a phase that would bring Calvino international acclaim as one of the leading representatives (with Borges, Perec, and Pynchon, among others) of a transnational...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 197-220)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-234)
  13. Index
    (pp. 235-239)