Book Review: The Mind Of Italo Calvino

The Mind Of Italo Calvino:  A Critical Exploration Of His Thought And Writings, by Dani Cavallaro

As someone who has just started to appreciate the writings of Italo Calvino, this book was an interesting one, although I must say that I will likely not agree with it entirely once I become familiar with more of Calvino’s writings.  At any rate, as someone who appreciates understanding and critically exploring the thought and writings of others, from time to time I enjoy reading the critical explorations of other people, not because they think the same as me but as a way of reminding me that my own subjectivity is just as subjective as theirs is.  Be that as it may, it is an interesting task to climb into someone’s head as they attempt to climb into someone else’s head, and if the pleasure is not as good as reading Calvino’s writings, it at least demonstrates that Calvino’s work is thought to be worthwhile and important, and that is always something worth considering and appreciating for those of us whose tastes blend from philosophical and scientific to speculative and fantasy as Calvino’s (and the author’s) tastes do, which is likely to be the target audience of this book, after all.

This book of about 200 pages is divided into eight chapters in which the author seeks to explore some aspect of theme of Calvino’s diverse and large body of work.  First, the author looks at the world of Italo Calvino, providing some context as to the intellectual history that Calvino was interested in springing in regarding Western civilization as well as the life and times of the author himself and how it influenced his writings (1).  After that the author examines the reimagining of history through his trilogy of works on “Our Ancestors (2) in which Calvino manages to reinterpret old stories.  After that there is a discussion of the author’s eccentric cosmologies which include some antropomorphism of that which is not human as a way of seeking to gain greater sympathy with an understanding of that which human beings are not involved in (3).  This leads to a discussion of Calvino’s endless journey through the invisible cities of Venice (4).  After this comes a look at the structures and their explosion through the tarot-influenced plot of The Castle of Crossed Destinies (5).  The author then turns to Calvino’s interest in science and play as can be seen in Mr. Palomar and Numbers in the dark (6) as well as the idea of a universal library that treats books like sculptured and resculptured objects in If on a winter’s night a traveler (7).  The author then concludes with a look at the sensory vividness of Calvino’s late work Under The Jaguar Sun (8).

In reading this book I became aware of something that the author was not talking about directly but was alluding to in indirect ways.  Calvino’s interest in science was coupled with a fascination about power and protean changeability that suggests that the source of his unhappiness with Western rationalism was connected to a belief in occult powers, including but not limited to the tarot.  Calvino’s lack of Christian morality–some of his novels reflect upon the sexuality of ghosts, for example–and his lack of interest in rationalism is something that is worth watching, for it has not been present in the books I have read of his so far but may appear in other books that I have yet to read.  I will keep an eye out on this tendency, although it is somewhat strange that the author seems unaware of the importance of alchemy and the pre-rationalist scientific thought of the West as being a possible influence for Calvino’s speculative fiction.  Perhaps it is simply that she is unaware of that history herself and so she does not draw attention to that mystical tendency that was once present in Western scientific thought that has been banished to the realms of pseudosience in more recent times.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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