Italo Calvino: mythical writing in an enlightened world. Desire, utopia and earthly transcendence in the cosmicomic stories, Le città invisibili, and Palomar
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This thesis offers an interpretative framework of Italo Calvino’s later work (the cosmicomic stories, Le città invisibili, and Palomar), based on the notions of myth, desire, utopia and science. Its aim is to suggest a reading of these texts as a common literary project best described as being deeply influenced by mythological elements and structures, while clearly bearing the mark of enlightened thought. The study exposes both the intellectual implications of such a project, and the aesthetic mechanisms by which it takes its form. The research was informed by Calvino’s own relevant critical work, a network of secondary criticism approaching either the texts which were of interest to this particular work or the themes and notions that were to be explored, and a set of tertiary texts, which helped to consolidate pivotal notions. The latter include the work of thinkers who had a major influence on Calvino as it is known from his essays and his letters (like Charles Fourier or Giorgio de Santillana), but also other figures, such as Anton Chekhov or Albert Camus, who emerged as interesting comparative opportunities for our study. The analysis of the cosmicomic stories explores the relationship between myth-making and individual responsibility. It draws parallels between intellectual commitment and literary projection, and defines Calvino’s utopian project, including it in a reflection on knowledge, myth and the tyranny of abstract thought. Individual responsibility emerges as a prospective and a retrospective activity, which is explained alongside the idea of ‘poetics in the making’. Le città invisibili is studied as an illustration of Calvino’s precise poetics using the image of the city. The notions of the episode and the frame are the central concepts around which the inquiry is articulated. Discussing the ideas of desire and the search for the ideal, it is possible to draw solid links with the cosmological project of the cosmicomics and Calvino’s idea of utopia and myth. With an examination of characterisation in Palomar and a close analysis of the quest for meaning, this thesis also attempts a definition of Calvino’s aesthetics as the ‘aesthetics of earthly transcendence’. It moves on to a comparative study of Palomar and Le Mythe de Sisyphe by Albert Camus, in order to suggest an interpretation of the main character, as a man who lives and observes his life in the face of the absurd; the literary consequence being the immediate confrontation between writing and death, and the presence of silence threatening understanding and communication.