The Early Works of Italo Calvino: Their Utility in Teaching Italian Literature and Culture

The Early Works of Italo Calvino: Their Utility in Teaching Italian Literature and Culture

Daniele Arciello (University of León, Spain)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3379-6.ch017
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This chapter aims to consider the collected works of the writer Italo Calvino and their usefulness as effective tools for the teaching of the Italian language. Through the study of his early novel and short story collection, Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (The Path to the Nest of Spiders, 1947) and Ultimo viene il corvo (The Crow Comes Last, 1949), we can easily find many helpful ideas and suggestions to create educational aids. The themes of his work, as well as the relevance of the different phases of Calvino's life, such as his reflections upon the Second World War and Italian partisanship, will be the main subject of this study. One of the most important purposes of this proposal is to underline the connection between the contents of imaginary tales and dissertations and the methods by which the Italian language is taught. Keeping in line with the importance of this author, his role as a model for other writers will also be emphasized.
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We can easily consider Italo Calvino one of the most significant twentieth century Italian authors. His works had been translated in many languages1 and a lot of writers had been inspired by his undisputed talent. In addition, the content of his books is still used as a guide for both students and teachers in academic research and education. The apparently simplicity of his texts often hides a more complex and relevant meaning that helps the reader to fathom cultural, political and philosophical issues. Calvino unlikely reached for an indecipherable method to express the most profound denotations of his works; as a matter of fact, he frequently turned the great amount of his reflections into a helpful combination of educational and theoretical considerations. Nevertheless, his method does not imply a passive attitude of the reader, who needs to be not only an active traveller through the pages of novels and essays, but also a potential creator, that is, a cunning storyteller or a critic.

His responsibility as an active reader consists in a process of literary creation that transcends the ordinary limits established by a conventional perspective. Obviously Calvino was not the first author who proposed this innovative author/reader relationship, but certainly his ideas had been appreciated before and after his demise by many literature and semantics expert. Among them, Umberto Eco stands out for the connection he saw between the theories of Calvino and his own concept of the ideal reader – which can be read in his work The Role of the Reader (1979) –, and he revealed his admiration for what Calvino stated in If on a winter's night a traveler (1979) and in Six Memos for the Next Millennium (1989) (Eco, 1996, pp. 9-11). In fact, his pioneering intention of making the reader capable of creating stories, starting from the acts of interpretation and comprehension, is considered a key aspect of postmodern literature.

Another characteristic is the affinity between the content of his novels and tales and adolescent reading audience, which can be clearly observed through the examination of the topics that structure his books. For instance, Marcovaldo: or the Seasons in the City (1963) was part of an educational project in which the 20 novelle that form the text were conceived as a pedagogic book for secondary school students. From the first edition in 1963 to 1988 about 1350000 copies of Marcovaldo had been sold, despite many political problems.2 It surely demonstrates its significant value. Considering his production in a whole, there are many books that revealed his will to teach about metaphysical, metaliterary and philosophical issues, such as the function of the author, the role of the reader, the meaning of life and the search for a universal order. Thus, his works can offer several intriguing ideas with respect to not only pedagogy but also culture, philosophy and linguistics as well.

With the purpose of organising the collected works of Calvino in a suitable teaching module, a scheme of his early publications will be developed in various sections of this chapter. It will be a study of the texts inspired by his experience as a partisan throughout the Second World War and as a witness of how social outcasts (especially poor people and orphans) managed to survive during post-war period. Some features related to the identity of the characters and consequently to the reality/fictional world will be underlined. Each passage is excerpt from an Italian edition with an English translated version in endnotes.

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