Italo Calvino was born in Santiago of Las Vegas, near Avana, in 1923, but his family moved to Sanremo when he was less than two years old. His parents were teachers of botany and the fact to have lived up to twenty years old to Sanremo in a garden full of rare and exotic plants and in the woods of the Ligurian foothills of the Alps, going hunting with his father, has had a notable meaning in his narrative work. The war surprised him still young, but his young age didn't prevent him from taking part in the partisan struggle entering in the Brigate Garibaldi.
The Resistance marks the moment of Calvinos maturation and his clash with the history, as his first adolescence had been characterized by the discovery of the nature.
In 1947 he graduated in Letters in Turin and immediately afterwards he has been engaged by the publishing house Einaudi, where he met Pavese. His first book, Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno, born from the partisan experience and written in a few days in 1946, was published in 1947 by Einaudi, and with the baptism of Pavese it appeared on " L Unità ". The success opened him the respect and the friendship of Vittorini. It was formed in that way the cultural triangle Pavese-Calvino-Vittorini, but Calvinos entry in the Communist Party complicated the relationships with Vittorini, especially after the hasty death of Pavese(1950).
In 1949 Calvino published the stories Ultimo viene il corvo, that continued the Resistance fiction for some motives, but for the adventurous-fairy-tale accent it got further. A brief polemic was born from there on the belonging of Calvino to Neoralism. Then it was the time of the stories, Lentrata in guerra (1954) and of the collection Fiabe italiane (1956). In his essay Il midollo del leone (1955) Calvino underlined the necessity of the refusal of the literate to let be involved in the daily chronicle; the real intellectual, to preserve his liberty of judgment doesn't have to become integral part of a party; the positive hero is the demagogic product of a particular ideology. Also in Visconte dimezzato Calvino has wanted to show that the positive hero, idealized by the socialist Realism, can also be useful for a political message, but he lacks of humanity. In fact the viscount, when he will have become again whole, could understand the dialectic of life.
In 1957, after the XX Congress of the PCUS, Calvino left the Communist Party and since then he has more and more set apart, but not giving up to look the Italian social reality in the face and to criticize it from the top. On February 1964 he marries the Argentinian Esther Judìth Singer in Avana and he moves to Paris. He dies on September 19 th 1985 in Siena, struck down by cerebral hemorrhage.
Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (1947) is the first work of Calvino and it has born from a polemic protest in front of the revival ofthe lower middle-class mentality of the postwar period. "The secret aspiration of Calvino, writing this book, is to cancel him same, that is to say to not superimpose his lyric-intellectual self, with the whole load of culture that this definition includes, to the collective self. In short, not to fall in the pathetic tendency to autobiography, neither in the document, Calvino becomes anonymous narrator. Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno has, despite the reported historical facts, the tone and the structure of a fable. Ideology is present, the wish to communicate the great experience on the civil war is present but it is as absorbed by the plant of fable... It is the tribute that Calvino pays to the civil engagement [
], but at the same time his principle to not mythicize the Resistance, to not idolize it not to exploit it. The Resistance has been done by authentic heroes, with proof Marxist ideals, but also by people that didn't have any political idea, apart that manifested in the instinctive necessity to feel free... The humanity is not composed by good and bad people divided by a fence: this concept caused the racism, or to the racism of the antiracism. The humanity is a mix of good and evil... (Bonura)
In 1949 Calvino collected the stories, previously written, in a volume with the title Ultimo viene il corvo. The style is still that of the first book. Some matters are still those of the Resistance, as in Andata la comando and the same Ultimo viene il corvo.
Also in these stories the protagonists are always boys, perhaps because Calvino considers the infancy and the adolescence as the best moment of the human life that is integrated better with the nature.
In 1954 Calvino published Lentrata in guerra, three stories, that later, in 1958, will be part of the big volume I racconti.
It is a kind of backward trip on his political maturation. It shows that initially he hadnt undrestood a lot about Fascism and the sad consequences of the war. Only step by step, after a series of negative experiences, he understands the moral crisis that matured in him same. This way the novel of his adolescence, through the memory of the so many fascist musters, of the so many dramatic and comic occasions, ends with being a parodistic and fanny moral search of the maturation of the antifascist man.
In 1952 Calvino published Il visconte dimezzato, a kind of fairy-tale hoax, that really was a morally busy book. The viscount Medardo of Terralba, during a war between Austria and Turkey, is struck by a Turkish cannon shoot and he returns home halved.
The viscount, because of this horrendous mutilation, becomes a criminal, but when the other half of his body reappears, that good, and unites to the body with the bad half, Medardo returns whole man with an admixture of wickedness and goodness, not dissimilar from what he was before being halved.
From 1954 to 1956 Calvino completed a big philological and narrative work, a collection of Italian popular fables taken by all the dialects, with the title Fiabe italiane. It wasnt a philological work only, on the contrary it was a modern version of all the ancient fables, a search of his poetic fiction, as its introduction shows.
The fairy-tale taste fiabesco a well more dramatic moral engagement in the story Il barone rampante (1957). It is about a young baron, Cosimo Piovasco of Rondò, which, on June 15 th 1767, while he is at table, refuses a dish of snails, that had been served him by his sister and imposed by his father. At his refusal, the terrible anger of his father exploses. Brief period of punishment, then other offering of snails, other definite refusal and escape of the young baron on the trees, where he scrambles up as a squirrel.
From that day the life of Cosimo is always spent on trees, observing from the top the life of the farmers, of the thieves, of the smugglers, of the bandits, of his same family, with which he held frequent contacts through the help of his small brother. The initial protest of Cosimo becomes as soon a rebellious emancipation from every form of social life, for a cohabitation all to the state of nature. Cosimo, at the end to grabs on to a English hot-air balloon of passage and he disappears in sea.
In 1959 Calvino published Il cavaliere inesistente (that the year after will be part of the trilogy with Il barone rampante and Il visconte dimezzato in the new volume I nostri antenati). The story is set in Charlemagnes period. The emperor, passes his paladins in review, asking every surname and name, and the paladins answer to his questions attentively. He stops in front of a paladin in an white armour with a black line that passed around the borders. The emperor, being bewildered in front of such armour, asks its motive. The Knight, without answering to the question, says his long and complicated name. Charlemagne, unsatisfied, asks the Knight why he never lifts the sallet and he doesn't show his face. He answers that he doesn't exist.
The non-existent Knight is the symbol of the contemporary man that identifies himself with his function, with what he does in the society, as the Knight identifies himself with his clean armour totally.
In 1957 Calvino published another committed book, La speculazione edilizia, facing the burning problem of the new society of the economic comfort. The story is set in the years of the so-called Italian economic miracle. Italy was starting to become an industrialized country by now, with consequent abandonment of the country by the farmers. But that big industrial explosion happened behind the inurban farmers, that accepted also derisive salaries to go out of the countrys poverty. To that climate of building speculation also the intellectuals participate looking for earnings, and the intellectual communist Quinto Anfossi, having intention to sell a piece of ground near his villa, goes to the city (Sanremo) to make a bargain. Calvino has certainly wanted to represent the failure of the contemporary Italian intellectual through Anfossi, that has left him to deceive in the meshes of the neo-capitalism, delaying the ascent of the working class.
In 1958 Calvino published on the magazine " Officina " the story I giovani del Po, that he had written some years before, between 1950 and 1951. The theme is common to most of the fiction of that time. Nino, a youth grown in the Ligurian coast, goes to Turin to work in an industry and to throw in the struggle of class, taking part to the construction of that new man that was fully grown with the ideal of the Resistance. Arrived in Turin, he meets and sees a girl, Giovanna and her friends that all belongs to the rich middle class. Nevertheless, even if he is taken by the girls love and by the the charm of the big industrial city, despite Giovanna's death during a demonstration, he doesn't suffer any political crisis. He remains, rather, up to the conclusion of the story, a positive hero of the Communism.
In 1958 Calvino published I racconti, in which he collected all those written between 1945 and 1958. The volume is arranged in four sections: Gli idilli difficili, Le memorie difficili, Gli amori difficili, La vita difficile.
This is one of the most meaningful books of Calvinos poetic and art, because it offers us the bitter sense of the reality of the life through a festive and humorous imagination that extends to the fable..
In La giornata di uno scrutatore (1963) Calvino, in clean opposition to the neo-avantgarde, with which he was in strong polemic, returns to the fashion of the naturalist and intimist novel of our tradition. Calvino in this novel" to lay the challenge in the labyrinth, or rather he tries to represent the persuasions, the uncertainties, the contradictions, the impulses of the contemporary intellectual, describing us the labyrinth where he is moving, the tangle of the problems to which he doesn't know how to give a sure answer, but also his wish to not lie down in the labyrinth, to continue to think and to fight for going out of it" (C. Salinari)
The occasion of the novel has been offered by an experience that Calvino has done as canvasser during the 1953 political elections near the institute Cottolengo, of Turin. For the first time an unknown world was opened to him, that of the chronic sick, that the nuns, in a desperate heroic struggle against the nature, try to take care of. That experience upsets him deeply, because he realizes the sense of the love in its higher quality; and not only the love of a country poor man that on Sundays come to the Cottolengo to see his child to affectionately spoon-feed him - a love, therefore, without choice, and without any hope - but also the nuns' love "that, althought freely select fro something that overcomes it, doesn't know the suffering of the true sacrifice... Calvino doesn't want to give any solution, but only to expresses an anguish, that is the opening of a new dimension: the dimension of the feelings, over that of the ideas". (Pullini)
In 1963 Calvino still published Marcovaldo,that is to say Le Stagioni in città. The book includes twenty short stories, that constitute a fairy-tale plot around the experiences of Marcovaldo, a poor devil, exiled in city with numerous issue, always hungry. In the middle of the city of cement and asphalt Marcovaldo goes looking for the Nature. What he finds is a nature compromised with the artificial life; Marcovaldo is conceived as a funny and together melancholy character, which, in a series of adventures, like illustrated cartoons, season by season feels more and more to estrang himself in an inhuman and unnatural world.The last story, Luna e Gnac, concludes with ascertaining that there is no more a place on earth for a natural happiness, for a free harmony between the man and the nature.
In 1965 with Le cosmicomiche Calvino faced a kind of science-fiction story, as a backwards story on the origin of the world with the following catastrophes. Protagonist is an old-wise-youth, which represents the man of the origin of the world and its end, as the scientific theory according to which the destruction of the universe will happen with the same trial biophysicist with which was born wants.
Influenced by thestructuralism, Calvino, through a combinatorial mechanism, results in a real game of narrative possibilities in his works Il castello dei destini incrociati and Le città invisibili.
" Italo Calvino published Il castello dei destini incrociati (Turin, Einaudi, 1973) in 1969; the literary text served as counterpoint to the reproduction of the illumination of a pack of cards of fiftheenth century tarots. The origin was really in the fantastic solicitations offered by the symbols of the game. Lining up a series of cards, the writer recognized a finished story, of which it was possible to interpret the meaning orally. Then one of these cards could constitute the point of departure for another history; a third was added, crossing the previous cards, and so on, up to the exhaustion of the pack, that all unfolded, introduced a whole legible narrative interlacements in a different way and according to the card of start[...]
In the other novel, Le città invisibili (1972), Calvino imagines that the emperor of the Tartars, Kublai Kan, listening Marco Polos accounts on the cities that he visits through the immense empire conquered with the weapons. Those invisible cities become visible for him, through the descriptions that Marco Polo makes of them and they are in clean antithesis with the visible cities where we are forced to live and in which anyone live to not remember to live. And Marco Polo says, meditating on this daily hell:
There are two ways to not suffer it. The first one succeeds easy to many: to accept the hell and to become a part of it up to the point to not see it anymore. The second is risky and asks for attention and continuous learning: to look for and to know how to recognize who and what,in the middle of the hell, it is not hell, to let it last and to give it space.
In 1979 Calvino has published an unusual novel, Se una notte dinverno un viaggiatore, in which a male Reader and afemale Reader try to create a novel but their intention is always frustrated.
" First of all a novel includes a transcription of the reality: but which reality? If the reality is transformed in continuation, here, of here, there is the necessity that the book is transformed too. If the reality is a void of things also the book will be a void of words. If the reality is a mechanism that is uselessly endlessly repeated, the book will also become a mechanism that is uselessly endlessly repeated ". (G. De Rienzo)
Subsequently, the mistrust in a global knowledge of the world was expressed by him in Palomar (1983). Unfortunately even Mr. Palomar with all his analysis, succeeds in systematizing the reality methodically. Identical awareness of an elusive reality had been expressed in the essay Collezione di sabbia(1984)". Italo Calvino closed the piece just from which the volume derives the title, with an expression that the day after his death, suddenly assumes a depth, in a climate, almost, of human and literary balance, even if the piece traces its origins to 1974: "So, interpreting the diary of the melancholic (or happy?) sand's collector I have arrived to question me on what is written in that sand of written words that I have put in line in my life, that sand that now appears me so much distant from the beaches and from the deserts of the provision. Perhaps fixing the sand as sand, the words as words, we could arrive to understand how and in what measures the grinded and corroded world is still able to find a base and a model in Un sapore di consuntivo, at the end of an itinerary directed over "the confused wind of the experiences and over the noise of the deformanti and aggressive feelings"... to gain the sandy substance of all the things,.........
Always in the narrative genre it goes out in 1986 Sotto il sole giaguaro.
" Three stories: Il nome, il naso, Sotto il sole giaguaro, Un re in ascolto composes this posthumous book, and represents part of a vaster work, I cinque sensi, a kind of review, under the fiction form, of the vast, fascinating world of our senses. [...] The last Calvino has wanted to give an allegory of the obsessed condition in which ends up to find himself who lives only of senses, without the least ransom of the spirit from the substance? May be.
The last work of Calvino: Lezioni americane, written in 1985 and published in 1988, they include six lectures that he would have had at the university of Harvard on literature, according to the aesthetical categories showen as poetic by himself: Leggerezza, Rapidità, Esattezza, Visibilità, Molteplicità; the sixth on the Consistenza wasnt written. This theoretical scheme let him write interesting essays on Cavalcanti, Galileo and others.
Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno is one of the few books of Calvino that can be connected to Neorealism, also for the attitude of the writer that aims to let resound the choral story that was raised in Europe and in Italy after the experience of fascism, of the war and of the Resistance. The self of the writer has the tendency to disappear, as in the contemporary cinema they have the tendency to disappear the mediation of the story and the literary mediation. Anyway we underline, already in this first story, the fairy-tale structure typical of the work of Calvino.
In the following work the writer, having taken conscience of the new social alienating reality, doesn't succeed in putting order in his mind, to systematize the manifold and contradictory problems of the technological society that has modified and modifies the dimensions of the life and the world continually. This way, the most dramatic and actual sociological reality is the dramatic and grotesque content of Calvinos fable.
In Il castello dei destini incrociati Calvino, influenced by the structuralism, in front of the ambiguity of the circumstances in which his characters incur, discovers that the unpredictable casualness from which Ithey are pushed doesn't have other result but of destruction, folly, death. [...] Not at all Calvino has not taken inspiration from the tangle of warlike enterprises of the Orlando furioso, a poem considered for too much time a masterpiece of smiling equilibrium, really pervaded by the restlessness of a civilization next to the sunset, in which the trust in the reason comes less and the fortune appears true dominator of the human things. [...] These desolate conclusions are fixed with great strength in La taverna dei destini incrociati, composed with the same method of the Castello. The cosmic religious pessimism assumes a religious colouring: at the origin of the whole there is the nothing and here the angel of the evil lives.
We could think that Le Cosmicomiche want to be a kind of parody of the science fiction, or are inspired by infatuations for the big discoveries of the science, but really they constitute a coherent aspect of Calvinos fiction, according to which the stories go on well where the there is the not be contrasted to what there is, the void contrasted to the full one. There is again a sensibility, a cosmic anguish, a pessimism of Leopardis type, according to which everything is transformed in the universe [...].
There wasnt anymore the way to fix a point of reference: the Galaxy continued to turn but me I didn't succeed in counting the turns anymore, any point could be that of departure, any sign crossed to the other could be mine, but its discovering would not have be useful to nothing, so much it was clear that independently from the signs the space didn't exist and perhaps it had never existed.
Here the meditation-contemplation of Leopardi is still enriched of one more aware sceptic frustration of the self and the world. Consequently also the theme of the loneliness of romantic-Leopardi type in Calvino has become tragedy of the incommunicability of the man in his deeper experiences.
"In the American lessons it tries to point out what literature can be tomorrow and on what values to aim. Nothing of perceptive, [
] but trust in a relationship with the language that resides in a verification of fact: literature will be saved if it will go in opposite direction to that taken by our actual society with its moralistic and technological fetishes. In other words, a free and criticliterature that moves without limits in the endless space of the intelligence and with the boundless ambition that any objective is blocked her; [
] only this absolute challenge to the world could give a sense to the practise of writing tomorrow" (S. Pautasso).
To the fund of the apparent narrative fable and of the enjoied ironic-fairy-tale tone of Calvino there is always a well meditated and dramatic conception of life, alienated by the social relationships, by the technology, by the prejudices, by the modern industrial production.
Rationalist writer and illuminist for nature and vocation, Calvino attached the myth and the legend of the Resistance, also remaining always faithful to the reality of an experience lived in the flesh and in the spirit and lay a challenge to its detractors. "The mistrust in the socialist ideal brings him out and away from the worker movement, but he cannot remove his nostalgia of that trust, of that strength, of that purity. The ideal of the society of comfort advanced by the new middle class, is revealed him false, provisional, repugnant, even if it gives him the charm of a feverish and intense life " (Salinari).
He warns and suffers all the internal contradictions of the Italian intellectual of the postwar period, he analyzes and put in evidence the crisis of the new bourgeois society, but he transfers all his analyses on the plan of the fable, with the tone of the fable, leaving open the problem. For this reason, he remains always oscillating between fable and reality, between humor and rationalism, as the smile, his melancholy fun, while he is relieving the real tragedy of the life, he illuminates the treated and narrated subject of an unpredictable and thoughtful moral resonance.
He gave a very beautiful example in delineating the figure of the Barone rampante that has refused to go down to earth denouncing, in his obstinate negation of the existing order.
"In front of a corrupt society [
]Cosimo chooses to be out of the fray and at the same time to measure himself with it and with the nature. [
] The man, alone, has to overcome a certain number of tests, of dangers to understand who really he is. And having understood who he is, that is to say a protester " ante litteram ", [...] his destiny has completed. In truth it is not really about destiny, but of choice. Here it is the ethic (or the morality) of his folly. True life, can be organized only in conclusion among the branches of the trees,: this is the message of Cosimo
"The human condition of Cosimo Piovasco of Rondò is positive: [...] he is affirmed in the nature granting it his demands, he is affirmed in the society giving his own ideas to the others, participating, interested and at the same time individualistically independent from the [
] social institutions. It is in this weave of relationships that his moral liberty is realized, on a fund of a laic Protestantism [
] that ignores the pessimism of the guilt and the predestination, but that, contrarily, is opened to the Enlightenment trust in the human nature and in the reason,..." (Pescio Bottino).
"... the cycle of Marcovaldo develops the theme of the not insertion of the defenseless individual in the social structures. Here the adventure is bitter and almost always has the mark of the defeat. The clou of the figure is the tragedy of whom, not more country and not civil, is grinded by the merciless gear of the life in partnership: the hunger, the poverty, the numerous children, the resentment of his wife, are its consequences. [
]. They will be the most elementary sufferings of his life and of his children to move his adventurous search of the nature, to which the city opposes [
]its innumerable abilities of frustrations. (Pescio Bottino)