Centrality of Authorship
write all these books in which the author is the
only character? It is commonly said that every author writes the same
book over and over again. This could certainly apply to Calvino, as he
uses the same devices in nearly every one of his works. His goal is simple.
It is the act of writing that truly interests, perhaps even obsesses,
Calvino, and everything he writes is in some way an exploration of this
profound and mystical process.
Or rather, Calvino would disagree that the process is at all mystical.
He rejects the traditional idea of inspiration—the belief that the
author somehow channels a source of material that is somehow outside himself,
that writing is “matter of inspiration descending from I know not
what lofty place, or welling up from I knot what great depths, or else
pure intuition, or an otherwise unidentified moment in the life of the
spirit, or the Voice of the Times…”
In fact, Calvino disagrees with the idea that the author is extraordinary
at all. He is not a chosen one, but has rather
achieved mastery of a skill: combining different literary elements into
a larger narrative. In Calvino’s mind, all authors resemble his
fictional Alexandre Dumas:
proceeds in this fashion: two assistants develop one by one the various
alternatives that depart from each single point, and they furnish Dumas
with the outline of all the possible variants of an enormous supernovel;
Dumas selects, rejects, cuts, pastes, interposes.
point in laying out the underlying structures of his novels is to show
how easy it is to write, how writing is not a process of mystery and gift,
but fundamentally computational. He would like to achieve complete transparency
in the process of writing—to in some way take the author down from
his pedestal. As he would like it, “the author vanishes—that
spoiled child of ignorance—to give place to a more thoughtful person,
a person who knows that the author is a machine, and will know how this
Ultimately, Calvino’s virtuosity outdoes his theory. He is simply
too good at elegant description and creative storytelling. For all his
theory, the reader is never moved to think how easy it would be to create
a work like Invisible Cities or If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.
Quite on the contrary, one is moved to appreciate the uniqueness and flair
Calvino uses to fill in his blanks and create his frames. As Barth puts
it, “The saving difference between Calvino and the other wizards
of OULIPO was that (bless his Italian heart and excuse the stereotyping)
he knew when to stop formalizing and start singing--or better, how to
make the formal rigors themselves sing.” This ability to sing
is Calvino’s greatest asset, and no matter how many structures he
locks his gift into, or how many patterns he makes it jump through, he
comes no closer to locating its origin. His voice is unique to the point
that reading Calvino puts one in a permanent state of amazement at his
skills, and astonishment at his creativity.
Jackson Pollock painting