“…As I Bend to Peer Into the Envelope of Myself:”
Italo Calvino’s (American) Identity.
In-person lecture by Prof. Andrea Dini, Montclair University
Presented by Prof. Elisabetta Nelsen, SFSU
Thursday, September 28, 2023 | 6:30 pm
Italian Cultural Institute @INNOVIT
710 Sansome Street, San Francisco
As we approach the eve of Italo Calvino’s centennial (October 15, 1923), nearly forty years after his death (September 19, 1985), questions arise spontaneously: what is the legacy of this Italian novelist in the United States? What ideas about literature’s mission should he be renowned for? What should the non-academic, average American reader focus on, considering the kind of critical reception Calvino has had in this country throughout his career? This presentation aims to discuss aspects of Calvino’s work that pertain to the formation of a singular, twofold “American” identity of the author, and to the literary values that this identity supports. One first American identity was determined by Calvino himself: as an attachment to the United States as an ideal literary homeland, whose writers, translated in Italian in the 1930s and 40s, “brought him into the world” (Ernest Hemingway among many, referenced by Calvino as his “god” – so that all the early works bear the distinctive mark of Hemingway’s influence, which extends until the early 1960s, when Borges takes Hemingway’s place). The second American identity is more academic, but it is still worth discussing, since it reverberates in what wider audiences read of him – it is determined by Calvino’s critical reception, by a canon of works construed by academic criticism. By favoring some works over others, by translating some seminal essays over others, the American publishing world and scholars have forged an image of Calvino for the North American reader that perhaps clashes with, or is not very reconcilable with, the Italian perspective. Here, in this country, the postmodern or more ‘fantastic’ Calvino prevails, while in Italy the ‘realist’ Calvino of “The Path to the Nest of Spiders,” or “The Watcher” and most definitely the writer who is fond of exploring “otherness” comes more into focus. Even the concept of the fantastic as discussed for Calvino in the United States is often incongruent with what the Italian audience may understand of it; here, in the United States, it becomes diluted in the realm of ‘fantasy,’ whereas in Italy, it resides in a domain that promotes the understanding or revelation of otherness and questions it. The two different or divergent approaches to Calvino’s works, however, can become a chance to reflect upon his legacy and the values of literature he so profoundly espoused.