Italo Calvino as an aesthete  - By Professor Dr. Saadat Saeed


Italo Calvino, who died in 1985, was a great Italian fiction writer and critic. His books such as The Baron in the Trees, The Castle of Crossed Destinies, Cosmicomics, Difficult Loves, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, Invisible Cities, Marcovaldo, Mr Palomar, The Nonexistent Knight & the Cloven viscount, T Zero, and The Watcher and other stories, earned him a worldwide popularity. In his fiction Calvino has made the planet magical, living and comprehensible for his readers. Calvino's book The Uses of Literature (essays translated by Patrick Creagh) reveals his remarkable creative approach and uncustomary style in the history of modern criticism. Christopher Lehmann-Houpt writes in New York Times "One comes away from this collection of intellectually playful essays by Italy's foremost modern novelist ....inspired to go back and reared the body of his fiction in the light of his reflections on literature. Soul Steinberg points out that in his broadly admired essays Calvino has reflected on literature as a process, the great narrative game in the course of which writer and reader are challenged to understand the world. Soul also appreciates Calvino's modern literary approach which relates literature to science, philosophy and politics. Calvino's analytical studies of great classical writers are exceptional. He seems to be fond of the techniques and styles of Eugenic Montale, Roland Barthes, and Marianne Moore among his contemporary writers. His criticism also encompasses the progressive theories of modern cybernetics, sociology, language, myths, and folk thought.

Calvino wrote many articles on the subjects of science and mystery and philosophy and man. His essays on desire, comedy, eroticism, and fantasy in the perspective of literary phenomenology are concrete and have nothing to do with abstract speculations.

Calvino, Like his great contemporary philosopher Sartre, has also discussed the issue of the responsibility of writer under the title of, Whom do we write for? His articles "Right and wrong political uses of literature" and " Levels of reality in literature" depict the political and realistic bent of his mind.

He himself was aware of this fact. So he says ,"Having grown up in the times of dictatorship, and being overtaken, by total war when of military age, I still have the notion that to live in peace and freedom is a frail kind of good fortune that might be taken from me in an instant. Given this incentive, politics took up perhaps too great a part of preoccupations of my youth. I mean too great for me, for what contribution I might have made, since things that seem distant from politics count far more as influences on history (even political) of countries and people."

Like many existentialist philosophers critics and intellectuals, Calvino has also used characters and situations depicted in modern and classic fiction to formulate his sociopolitical views. His situational studies have nothing to do with mechanical methods usually in use of professorial criticism.

We can't divide them into various apartments reserved for radical or reactionary literature. Calvino rightly points out that literature is necessary to politics above all when it gives a voice to whatever is without a voice, when it gives a name to what as yet has no name, especially to what the language of politics excludes or [ attempts to exclude. I mean aspects, situations, and languages both of the outer and the inner world.

Calvino was a true companion of Herbert Marcuse, Eric Fromm, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and several other intellectuals who have built their studies on the basis of authentic emotional and psychic conditions of the human being in the robotic and enslaved societies., All ‘these intellectuals were keen to take their rudimentary details from the universe of written words especially of fiction.

In this connection Calvino discusses 'Candid' by Voltaire, 'Ferragus' by Balzac, 'The Betrothed' by Manzoni, "The Charterhouse of Parma' by Stendhal, and a few famous novels by Flaubert, Dickens and Fourier.

In his articles under the titles of An Essay in Velocity, The City as Protagonist in Balzac, The Novel as Spectacle, The Novel of Ratios of Power, Brief Introduction of Society of Love, The Controller of Desires, A Utopia of Fine Dust, Standhal's Knowledge of the Milky Way, etc, Italo Calvino is of the opinion that it is quite possible a given mode of an aesthetic voice can fail to correspond with the creative experience which a writer chooses to unveil. So he is bound to look for new approaches of artistic discourses. In this process he can carve out altogether unprecedented modes of expression in prose and poetry.

He declares that simply because of the solitary individualism of his work, the writer may happen to explore areas that no one has explored before, within himself or outside, and to make discoveries that sooner or later turn out to be vital areas of collective awareness.

Italo Calvino's views on poetry could be searched in his articles entitled The Odysseys Within the Odyssey, Ovid and Universal Contiguity, The Structure of Orlando Furioso, The Bestiary of Marianne Moore, and Montale's Rock.

Writing an article on the death of Eugenic Montale, the Italian Nobel laureate, Calvino writes that he never spared his sarcasm toward any cleric either red or black, and in another article he indicates, "The strength of his poetry has always lain in his keeping his voice low, without emphasis of any kind, using modest and doubtful tones. It is precisely for this reason that he has made many hear, and his presence has had the great impact on three generations of readers. This is how literature tunnels its way forward; its efficacy, its power, if they exist at all are of this type." So was Calvino's path. He never engaged himself in meaningless combats.

His voice was humble and moderate. He influenced many generations. Italo Calvino's literary approach was realistic. For him literature was like an ear that could hear things beyond the understanding of language of politics. It was like an eye which could see beyond the colour spectrum perceived by politics.

In The Uses of Literature, the article The Pen in the First Person depicts the characteristics of drawings by Saul Steinberg, a famous painter, who once said, "I was unable to tell at what point I decided to becom an artýst because I never decided and I still have not done so. I decided to become a novelist when I was 10. 1 prepared my life in terms of causing the sort of actions that would make me a novelist. But then I became something else." Steinberg used to reflect biographical details in his drawings.

As for as the problems of symbolic interpretations of myths and language are concerned, Italo Calvino in his thought provoking articles Cybernetics and Ghost and In Memory of Roland Barthes, projected his views effectively He believed in multi-dimensional aspects of literature.