Gore Vidal (and others) on why Italo Calvino is so great

I’m currently in the midst of an Italo Calvino kick. I’ve just finished reading If on a winter’s night at traveler and am about to start re-visiting Cosmicomics, which, although I’ve read as individual stories, I’ve never read them together as a united work (post coming soon).

I remember reading Calvino many years ago, and absolutely falling in love with the seeming ease with which he told a story. His words seemed to play with me, pulling me effortlessly through the narrative. With a lightness unique to him, he could relate incredibly profound meaning. I’ve never smiled so much while reading any one else, and that is as true today as it was when I first encountered him.

Apparently I’m in pretty good company with this opinion, as is evidenced by this New York Times Audio Special: Celebrating Italo Calvino, where literary luminaries such as Umberto Eco, Carlos Fuentes, and Salman Rushdie, Wallace Shawn, and many others met to read from and sing the praises of this writer. Another big fan of his is Gore Vidal, who, from what I’ve read doesn’t seem to be a “big fan” of many. He had this to say of Calvino,

Where Calvino was there was literature. Like it or not.

Below is the interview where Vidal explains why Calvino, at least for him, holds such a remarkable place in the modern literary world.


6 thoughts on “Gore Vidal (and others) on why Italo Calvino is so great

  1. We shouldn’t forget that Calvino was a member of OULIPO (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) and as such received from and contributed a great deal to the workshop. This is the write-up by Hervé Le Tellier from the OULIPO site (http://www.oulipo.net/):

    “Né à Santiago de Las Vegas, près de La Havane, Italo Calvino est revenu en Italie dès l’âge de deux ans, à San Remo. Membre du Parti Communiste et de la résistance italienne durant la guerre, il publie en 1947 son premier livre, Le sentier des nids d’araignée, grâce à Cesar Pavese, et rejoint l’équipe de l’éditeur Einaudi. L’« écureuil de la plume » publiera en 1951 le premier volume de ce qui deviendra la « trilogie des Ancêtres », le Vicomte pourfendu, et lui vaudra une célébrité précoce et durable. Il entre en 1956 en opposition avec la politique culturelle du Parti communiste italien, et, après l’intervention soviétique en Hongrie, quitte définitivement le Parti. Ami de Raymond Queneau, il traduisit en italien les Fleurs bleues. C’est au cours des années d’« ermite » où il vécut à Paris, de 1967 à 1980, qu’il rejoint l’Oulipo, en 1973 précisément. En été 1985, alors qu’il travaillait sur les conférences qu’il devait donner à Harvard, il est victime d’une série d’attaques cardiaques. Il meurt à l’hôpital de Sienne dans la nuit du 18 au 19 septembre 1985.”

    We consider Calvino an Italian author but it’s also interesting to consider how much of his association with Cuba and South American might have influenced his writing. I actually have two or three Calvino texts sitting on my shelf that have almost reached their age limit. Perhaps this would be the time to finally read them.

    Mike in Hilton Head

    • Thanks for sharing that. I’ve only just recently been delving a little deeper into his history and it’s a fascinating one. And although I certainly see the influence of his science background in his writing, I find in interesting that despite his actively political upbringing and adult life, I just haven’t seen it reflected to any great extent in his work.

      I haven’t read as much of him as I would like, and am currently rectifying that and enjoying it thoroughly.

  2. Hilarious watching Vidal excoriate modern day writers. I have three or four of his, Vidal’s, books, but nothing by Calvino. Will give him a go, but must admit I’ve dropped Island as too boring and predictable. That and John Fowles’ The Magus, which I’ve given two chances and have put aside as just not drawing me in.

    • Yep, I love watching Vidal when he starts ranting, but he seems to have genuine respect for Calvino. It’s almost touching. You should give him a go. Since you like the “physicsy” stuff, too, give Cosmicomics a try.

  3. Chemistry is not physics, of course, but have you read Primo Levi? I’m partway through The Periodic Table (it’s memoir, in the form of short stories), and I love it. Levi was a chemist before he was a full-time writer, and it works its way into the stories. The Monkey’s Wrench is fun, too. Calvino supposedly adored Levi’s writing.

    I loved Calvino when I was younger; Baron in The Trees and The Nonexistent Knight in particular.

  4. Pingback: T H E : N e X T : S T A T I O N – La ragione conoscitiva: la cosmicomica parabola di Italo Calvino « HyperHouse

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